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BA asks staff to retrain as cabin crew

BRITISH Airways (BA) has vowed to train thousands of baggage handlers and call centre workers as flight stewards in a bid to break a March strike.

Chief executive Willie Walsh last night squared up to Unite, the cabin crew union, by sending a letter to 38,000 BA employees asking them to volunteer and cross picket lines.

Walsh wrote: “I am asking for volunteers to back BA by training to work alongside cabin crew who choose not to support a strike, so we are ready to keep our customers flying... if this strike goes ahead.”

The move comes after Unite called a fresh ballot on industrial action after a Christmas strike was ruled illegal. The discontent revolves around changes to working practices.

Up to 13,000 flight attendants are expected to back the motion when the results are announced next month, which would allow Unite to stage a series of damaging walk-outs from the start of March into the Easter holiday period.

Walsh said BA would begin training replacement cabin crews today. BA is also looking into the option of “wet leasing”, where a company rents ready-manned aircraft from another carrier.

Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley issued a furious reply. He said: “It is inconceivable that BA should even be thinking of running its airline – the national carrier – with scab labour who have had only minimal training.”