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Mon, Feb 11, 2008

British Airways Pilots Move Towards Strike

Just In Time To Threaten Holiday Weekend

Calling the airline's plans to launch a new transatlantic subsidiary a "Trojan Horse" that will lead to reduced salaries, pilots at British Airways appear increasingly likely to strike within the next two weeks... a move that could spell trouble for thousands of passengers over the upcoming Easter holiday weekend.

Representatives with the British Air Line Pilots Association (BALPA) announced this weekend they have the votes to launch a strike, ahead of a ballot result due February 20. The action would affect 3,200 pilots at the British flag carrier.

"We have got the vote for strike action. All the indications from representatives is that members are very worried about the future and are supporting the action," said one union representative to The Daily Mail.

Though relations between both sides have never been especially cordial, the rhetoric peaked recently with the airline's announcement of a new subsidiary dubbed "OpenSkies," which will take full advantage of an impending change in legislation affecting flights between the United States and Europe. The airline is due to launch luxury service in June.

Pilots allege the airline plans to "massively outsource" flying duties on OpenSkies to pilots with less training, for lower pay. With those pilots in hand, the union says British Airways will then pressure its mainline workforce to accept lower wages, as well.

"We have seen the evidence and what BA proposes is an attack on current pilots and their families," said BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan. "That is why we are vigorously opposing this outsourcing. OpenSkies will be using BA planes and they should be crewed by BA pilots... What is happening around the world is that major airlines are setting up a subsidiary which starts with just a few aircraft but which is rapidly expanded using outsourced pilots.

"The mainline pilots are then told they must cut back their own pay and conditions to the levels of the subsidiary," McAuslan added. "We have seen it happening around the world and we are fighting to prevent it happening here in Britain. We are saying to BA that we are drawing a line in the sand."

That line in the sand could come as soon as February 29. BALPA will release the ballot results next Wednesday, and would announce any strike plans the following day. Under British regulations, the announcement serves as a seven-day notice to the airline, that a strike is coming.

A spokesman for British Airways said the airline is "disappointed" BALPA appears to be moving towards a strike. "We have given BALPA assurances that OpenSkies will have no detrimental impact on BA pilots," the spokesman said. "We hope that these assurances will dissuade BALPA from initiating action that would cause disruption for customers and harm our business.

"We have created OpenSkies because, for the first time, we are being allowed to fly directly between continental Europe and the US. This is an historic opportunity to strengthen and grow our business, which is very much in the interests of customers and staff," the spokesman added. "There is no change to the terms and conditions for BA pilots, which are among the best in the industry.

"We have told BALPA that we will offer secondments to BA pilots wishing to work for OpenSkies, with their pensions and seniority protected. We have asked BALPA to represent the pilots in the new airline."

FMI: www.balpa.org, www.britishairways.com

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