Q&A: What's the BA dispute about?

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

British Airways has had its "final" pay offer rejected by the Unite union.

Talks are due to resume between the two sides under the auspices of conciliation service Acas on Monday.

However, if they are unable to negotiate a deal, it would raise the prospect of a fresh wave of strikes.

The dispute between the airline and the union stretches back to before Christmas, and has resulted in 22 says of strike action since March.

What is at the heart of the dispute?

When the dispute began, it centred on changes to staffing levels, pay and working conditions.

However, following the walkouts in March, BA removed the travel concessions of workers who took part in the industrial action, with some also facing disciplinary action.

The union says the new dispute is now about these two issues, as well as how BA has handled industrial relations within the company.

It says the airline has used employees from other parts of BA on reduced terms, as well as temporary staff, to cover the strike action, which has caused divisions in the workplace.

When did the dispute begin?

The dispute started back in November when BA reduced the number of cabin crew on long-haul flights from 15 to 14 and introduced a two-year pay freeze from 2010.

The Unite union said this would hit passenger service, as well as the earnings and career prospects of cabin crew.

The airline also proposed new contracts for fresh recruits and newly promoted staff. These included a single on-board management grade, no seniority, promotion on merit, and pay set at market rate plus 10%.

This would have seen new recruits paid significantly less than current staff.

According to a 2009 survey for the Civil Aviation Authority, BA's cabin crew are well paid in industry terms with average earnings of £29,900 a year, including bonuses and allowances, compared with £14,400 at Virgin Atlantic.

What travel perks do BA workers get?

BA staff, as well as their family and friends, can buy tickets for 10% of the full fare price.

They all have to travel standby, so they only get to travel if there are empty seats. The longer they have worked for the airline, the higher up the standby list they get.

BA has offered to reinstate the perks of striking staff, but only at the level of new joiners, so they'd be at the back of the standby queue.

The issue of travel perks is especially important for some employees who live away from BA's main hubs of Heathrow and Gatwick, with some even commuting from abroad.

Why is BA making the changes to staffing levels, pay and working conditions?

BA says that it must restructure and permanently reduce its costs.

In the three months to June it made a loss of £164m, while in May it reported a record annual loss of £531m for the 12 months to March.

Over the past few years, air travellers have been switching to low-cost airlines, especially during the recession.

This is particularly true of business travellers who are traditionally BA's core customers.

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