BA dispute is resolved after change at top

THE TRADE union representing British Airways cabin crew yesterday voted almost unanimously to back a deal that is all but certain to end an acrimonious and lengthy dispute that has cost the airline hundreds of millions of pounds.

Sources close to the Unite union said a change of management at the airline had helped end the impasse, which lasted more than 18 months. In total, 6,900 crew participated in 22 days of strikes, crippling the airline and costing it over £150m.

A union official told City A.M. that recently-installed chief executive Keith Williams had brought a “new philosophy to the negotiating table” that contrasted with predecessor Willie Walsh’s “intransigence”. Walsh now runs IAG, the holding company that owns BA and Iberia since the two airlines merged.

It is just as likely that the recent arrival of Len McCluskey as Unite boss injected a fresh impetus into the talks.

The dispute originated over Walsh’s bid to reduce staffing on board aircraft and introduce less favourable terms and conditions for new crew. The union failed in its attempts to stop him and the reforms have been enacted as planned.

However, the standoff soon turned into a battle over travel perks, which were stripped from staff who took part in strike action. The union and airline also disagreed over disciplinary action taken against some union members.

Under the terms of yesterday’s deal, BA cabin crew will receive a two-year pay deal worth four per cent this year, 1.1 per cent of which is dependent on productivity savings, and 3.5 per cent the year after, with 0.5 depending on savings. Staff who had their travel perks withdrawn will see them restored.

Unite’s 10,000 members will now be balloted on the deal, which was backed almost unanimously by a show of hands at a union meeting yesterday. Union sources are confident that their members will vote for the agreement.

Analysts at RBS said: “This should be a positive catalyst for the stock and open the path to rebuilding staff morale and getting on the front foot in... customer service.”