FEARS of a bleak?Christmas for British Airways (BA) were growing last night, after the Unite union said it would ballot its 14,000 cabin crew on strike action. <br /><br />Unions and BA management have been at loggerheads over cost-cutting at the airline, which is struggling to weather the financial storm. Nine months of talks fell apart yesterday when the union called for industrial action. <br /><br />BA has said it wants to axe 1,700 jobs, and freeze pay for staff, as it braces itself to report its second major financial loss in a row next month. <br /><br />But a strike ballot, which will not happen for at least four weeks, could see operations at the airline ground to a halt in December, causing further financial strife.<br /><br />BA said it was “extremely disappointed” by Unite’s decision. But the union said industrial action was the only option.<br /><br />“Management’s determination to impose unacceptable contractual changes on cabin crew leaves us no alternative,” Unite boss Derek Simpson said.<br /><br />“Negotiation, not imposition, is the only proper way to conduct industrial relations,” he added.<br /><br />BA defended its moves to reduce working hours and cap pay, saying its cabin crew was the best paid in the country.<br /><br />The airline has said big changes are necessary for it to survive the current downturn, which has left the aviation sector on its knees. <br /><br />BA’s chief executive Willie Walsh is currently in Las Vegas, after flying there over the weekend on BA’s inaugural direct flight to the US gambling capital.<br /><br />Workers will discuss the plans for strike action at an emergency meeting at Sandown Racecourse in Surrey next Monday.