UNITE, Britain’s biggest trade union, yesterday warned that British Airways bosses are out to smash the union at Heathrow and Gatwick.
The union said it was willing to put the company’s own offer directly to Unite’s BA cabin crew members, in an indicative ballot – and would cancel any strike action if the ballot showed acceptance.
But British Airways boss Willie Walsh rejected this, saying the offer was now ‘off the table’ after Unite announced two strikes from March 20-22 and March 27-30.
Unite deputy general secretary and lead negotiator Len McCluskey said: ‘Every time talks appeared to make progress, the BA chief executive or another senior manager has popped up making public statements designed to inflame the situation.
‘This has led to the view that BA management’s real agenda is destroying trade unionism among its employees.’
Unite’s cabin crew members have voted overwhelmingly in two ballots, in favour of strike action against cuts to crew numbers and the imposition of new terms and conditions, as part of plans to sack around 1,700 staff.
The first ballot, which was over 92 per cent in favour of strike action, was outlawed by the High Court.
The second ballot delivered a vote of more than 80 per cent for action, despite intimidation of cabin crew and the suspension of some Unite members.
McCluskey said the union had bent over backwards to offer concessions to BA on behalf of Unite cabin crew members that would have helped the company to slash its labour costs. But Unite’s offer was rejected.
‘Regrettably, management turned down a remarkable offer from the union which would have given the company everything it said it wanted while also meeting our members’ concerns,’ said McCluskey.
‘This offer gives the lie to the smears that these skilled and professional employees are mindless militants indifferent to BA’s difficulties, or are defending a privileged position.’
He added: ‘Strikes are planned for March 20, 21 and 22 and further on March 27, 28, 29 and 30.
‘There will be no strikes over the Easter period, as we already promised, but further industrial action will be called to take place after April 14 if the dispute has not been resolved.’
McCluskey said: ‘Unite will stand four square behind our cabin crew members in their struggle against industrial dictatorship, and we will call on the whole of the labour movement at home and abroad to stand with us.’
Prime Minister Gordon Brown called ‘on all parties to work together to avoid these strikes’, saying: ‘The disruption to services is completely unacceptable.’
He added pointedly: ‘I remind them of the danger and risk to the British economy of disruptive strikes going ahead.’