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Thu, Jan 25, 2007

BA Cancels 1,300 Flights Ahead Of Anticipated Strike

Wants To Give Passengers The Chance To Make Alternate Plans

British Airways announced Thursday, January 24, it has canceled all flights from London's Heathrow airport, and all domestic and European flights out of Gatwick, for the last two days of January. The airline is anticipating a two-day strike called by UK's Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G) after labor negotiations failed to reach a consensus.

BA is offering to rebook or refund for passengers holding tickets for those dates.

As ANN reported, 96 percent of T&G voted to strike when the airline refused to make changes to it's sick-leave policy and combine separate pay scales for cabin crew. The airlines says 11,000 of its 15,000 cabin crew are union members.

In a statement, BA chief executive Willie Walsh said, "We are bitterly disappointed that the T&G has refused to respond positively to the serious proposals we have made on the union's two crucial issues. It has chosen instead to confirm a 48-hour stoppage for next week that will wreck the travel plans of hundreds of thousands of customers."

BA changed its sick-leave policy claiming workers were taking an average of 22 sick days per year -- they were authorized 25. BA reduced the number 12 per year. According to a report in Bloomberg, UK workers take on average seven sick days per year.

T&G voted almost a decade ago to split the pay scale for future workers -- now it wants the scales combined. BA says that could cost up to $38 million per year.

The union says BA's plans to cut the number of senior flight attendants -- those at the top of the pay scale -- will limit promotion opportunities for the rest.

A T&G statement read, in part, "Strike action by BA cabin crew moved a step nearer after BA failed to grasp the chance to settle the dispute in the early hours of this morning."

The two sides negotiated for 24 hours before talks broke down. The airline reportedly accepted changes to some management policies, but its salary offer was rejected by T&G.

The airline has asked T&G to enter arbitration with the independent UK Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS). Both sides must agree to accept ACAS arbitration beforehand.

"If it (T&G) is serious about solving this dispute peacefully it should turn away from confrontation and support our approach to (conciliators) ACAS in a bid to find a breakthrough," BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said in the company's statement.

The union originally planned to strike for three days next week. It says it dropped the first 24 hours to allow time for negotiation, but it has set further three-day walkouts for February 5 - 7 and February 12 - 14. The last three-day strike for BA in 1997 cost it some $250 million.

FMI: www.britishairways.com, www.acas.org.uk

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