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BA and Unite disagree over strike figures

BRITISH AIRWAYS and cabin crew union Unite continued to stand their ground yesterday, even as a three day strike drew to an end.

BA said it was still open to talks with Unite but that there were no immediate plans to go back into negotiations over plans to cut the pay and staff numbers of cabin crew at the airline.

But Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley urged BA chief executive Willie Walsh to “pick up the phone” after he said that “trying to break Unite would break BA’s bank account”.

“Willie Walsh’s silence is deafening. Where’s Willie? He has not been seen or heard from today while his business grinds to a halt,” said Woodley.

Clashes over the cost of the strike, as well as the damage to the airline’s reputation, have escalated tensions between the two parties.

BA estimated the cost of the strike at £7m a day, and said it carried 86,262 passengers during the first two days of the action, filling 68 and 69 per cent of seats on long haul and short haul flights respectively.

The British flag carrier said the losses would not affect its profits outlook for the year.

The airline maintained that contingency plans for the three-day strike had been successful after it flew 78 per cent of long haul flights and 50 per cent of short haul flights.

But Unite painted a different story. Woodley said: “We estimate that BA may have spent as much as £18m on leasing airplanes over the last three days.”

He added: “And it is beyond dispute that most of its long haul flights have been cancelled, and most of those which have taken off are half-empty or completely passenger-free.”

BA countered it was legally obliged to ensure it doesn’t publish inaccurate or misleading figures as information concerning its operation is market sensitive.

The second strike is expected to disrupt travel plans for millions of passengers over the busy pre-Easter holiday period this weekend and will run for four days starting on 27 March.

JOHN EVASON BAKER & MCKENZIE
LONDON head of employment at law firm Baker & McKenzie John Evason is leading a team advising BA management on the legal aspect of its strike negotiations with trade union Unite.

Evason is working alongside Julia Harrison, employment law head at BA, during the heavy negotiation period.

Evason focuses his practice on advising clients faced with industrial actions and acts as counsel in large-scale redundancy campaigns, senior executive dismissals and collective consultations.

Baker & McKenzie has maintained its long-standing relationship with the airline after first acting for BA eight years ago.

The firm recently went to court for the airline in December when BA successfully sought an injunction against cabin crew intending to strike over Christmas.

Bruce Carr QC from Devereux Chambers was instructed by the firm to represent BA in court.
Meanwhile, Thompsons Solicitors have taken a seat on the other side of the negotiation table by representing Unite.

Partner Neil Johnson is the main adviser to the union and previously represented Unite in an employment dispute against the Ministry of Defence.

Johnson instructed John Hendy QC of Old Square Chambers during the court dispute with BA last year.