BA cabin crew reject latest pay offer

Tony Woodley: "This is now a wake-up call for Willie Walsh"

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British Airways cabin crew have rejected the airline's latest "final" pay offer by 3,419 votes to 1,686.

Almost half the 11,000 affected Unite union members voted on BA's offer of a 2.9% pay rise next year with 3% the year after.

The no vote raises the prospect of new strikes in a dispute which has roots stretching back to before Christmas.

Unite urged BA to hold fresh talks. BA said it was "encouraged" by the result and called on Unite to end the dispute.

The number of votes cast - just over 5,000 - represented less than half of the unionised cabin crew and was well below previous ballots that saw more than 70% of them express their views.

In a statement, BA said: "We are encouraged by the result of this ballot which shows that 73% of our cabin crew did not reject our offer."

It also said the union had lost the moral authority to represent the views of cabin crew.

'Jaw-jaw'

But the joint-leader of the Unite union, Tony Woodley, said that the result suggested 85% of BA's staff were not happy with the offer, although he accepted that the turnout had been low.

He said the time had come for further talks. "Lets get round the table - lets solve the problem. Now this offer has been rejected lets 'jaw jaw' and not 'war war' with Willie Walsh."

Despite Mr Woodley's emphasis on fresh talks, he did not rule out another ballot for a strike.

Since March, the union has taken strike action on 22 days in a bitter industrial dispute that has cost BA more than £150m.

Mixed offer

The BA proposal had also included other elements, including a promise not to victimise staff who have taken part in the often-bitter dispute and a partial re-instatement of staff travel benefits.

BA plane and Unite banner The dispute between BA and its Unite unionised workers has been long-running and bitter

Unite did not give its members a guiding opinion on the offer, leaving them to make up their own minds.

However, one of its cabin crew branches, Bassa, had broken down the various elements of the proposed settlement into two lists, of "good" and "bad" points.

It had viewed as "good" the actual pay offer, the promise that work at Gatwick airport could be increased, and the promise of non-victimisation of workers caught up in disciplinary cases.

It had also welcomed the pledge to partially reinstate of staff travel, although this has become the most hotly contested element and also makes it on to the "bad" list - because the promise is only for partial restoration of these.

Lost perks

Before the industrial action, staff built up rights to discounted flights which grew with their length of service. BA has withdrawn the long-service element of these for workers who took action, meaning they have lost perks acquired over the years.

Other "bad" points cited by Bassa included the "vastly reduced" terms and conditions for new staff, and what it says is continued dismissal of staff in what it calls a "disproportionate and unfair way".

The airline views the changes to new recruits' conditions as crucial to its future success as it battles against other carriers whose staff are cheaper to employ. It says it must cut costs substantially to return to profit.

In May, BA reported its biggest annual loss since it was privatised in 1987 - £531m ($788m) in the 12 months to March.

The dispute started last year over BA's plans to cut costs by reducing the number of cabin crew on aircraft, but the row intensified after the airline withdrew travel concessions from staff who went on strike.

Relations worsened after BA took disciplinary action against union members as a result of the dispute, including a number of sackings which Unite now says have reached double figures.

BA shares closed down 2.5p, or 1.24%, at 199.4p.

Alliance approval

Meanwhile, US regulators have paved the way for a trans-Atlantic alliance between American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia by granting the firms immunity from anti-trust rules.

The move follows a recent decision by European regulators, and will allow the "oneworld" grouping of airlines to form an "integrated global alliance."

The approval means that the three airlines, plus, Finnair and Royal Jordanian Airlines, can more closely coordinate schedules and operations.

To ease regulatory concerns, the airlines have offered to make landing and take off slots available at Heathrow airport to facilitate the entry or expansion of competitors on routes between London and New York.

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