British Airways strike could impact 100,000 passengers at Easter

Posted by stephen on February 24, 2008

The Easter travel plans of more than 100,000 British Airways passengers face severe disruption unless peace talks avert strike action by pilots.

According to the Guardian newspaper, BA and the pilots’ union, Balpa, have agreed to take their dispute to a mediator after 3,000 BA pilots voted for a walkout yesterday. Balpa did not set strike dates but industrial action could take place from early next month if talks break down, threatening the busy Easter period and overshadowing preparations for the launch of Heathrow Terminal 5.

Strike action would ground around 100,000 BA passengers a day just as the airline is attempting to improve the tarnished reputation of its Heathrow base by moving to Terminal 5 next month.

The dispute centres on the launch of the subsidiary airline OpenSkies, which Balpa fears will be used as a vehicle to undermine pay and conditions for all BA pilots. OpenSkies will operate flights between continental Europe and the US, but Balpa fears its lower pay scales will be retained if staff transfer to BA’s mainline operations. BA has agreed verbally not to apply the conditions in its main business, but Balpa is demanding written assurances. BA says its CityFlyer service, which operates from City airport in London, operates under similar principles with no objections from Balpa members. However, 86% voted for a strike on a 90% turnout. The union said the vote was a “line in the sand” after foreign carriers such as American Airlines used subsidiaries to impose new pay and conditions on staff.

Senior figures on both sides talked up the chances of an agreement to head off the first BA pilots’ strike since 1979, but some BA flight crew are pessimistic, after the airline refused to make concessions during months of talks.

Jim McAuslan, Balpa’s general secretary, offered some hope to BA customers in a joint statement with the airline: “We have no quarrel with the travelling public and have always maintained that these issues could be resolved through negotiation rather than confrontation.”

Willie Walsh, the BA chief executive, said he was confident that a settlement would be reached. He added: “We are proud of the professionalism and high reputation of our pilots and have never sought conflict with them.”

BA pilots are also mulling over whether to avoid striking over Easter if talks break down, in order to retain public support.

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