BA and Unite in talks to save Christmas

British Airways and Unite have agreed to meet. Perhaps Christmas won't be grounded after all...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The airline and the union are scheduled to get around the table at 3pm today, to see if they can agree conditions to halt Unite's proposed 12-day strike. BA says it aims to avoid ‘massive stress and disruption' for the million or so Christmas holiday passengers who'd be affected by the walkout of its cabin crews, who plan to down warm towels and drinks trolleys from 22 December to 2 January in protest at a proposed pay freeze and cull.

But while the tone has become marginally less belligerent, BA is still heading to the high court this afternoon - seeking an injunction on the basis that the union's strike ballot was flawed. While it was endorsed by an overwhelming 92% of its cabin crew after an 80% turnout, the carrier claims the ballot also counted votes by staff who had already taken voluntary redundancy. Which is hardly in the spirit of Christmas.

An injunction would mean that the strike couldn't go ahead lawfully till after the festive period, thus avoiding the worst of the transport chaos, or ‘misery' as many commentators seem to like to mislabel it. But whether that'll work, who knows. Even if BA succeeds in the court, many cabin crew workers may just not bother turning up for work next Tuesday anyway, strike or no strike. So you may still have to plump for that caravan in Prestatyn after all.

Whatever happens we can't imagine there'll be too much Christmas cheer at BA HQ. They'll still have memories of two years ago, when the airline lost £80m after strikes were called off too late to prevent thousands of passengers defecting to rivals or demanding their money back. And this time boss Willie Walsh has a heap of extra financial headaches to contend with - a pre-tax loss of £1bn over two years, a £3.7bn hole in the pension fund, and a prolonged slump in demand for high-end bookings.

But it's not just BA that's trying to avoid a high-profile kick to the undercarriage. Gordon Brown has announced he's ‘very worried' by the whole thing. Indeed, the last thing the government needs after the recent Royal Mail debacle is the nation getting hit by another wave of strike-based Scroogery this close to Christmas. The PM was apparently up at six this morning chewing over the problem with his transport minister, Andrew Adonis, as he was trying to get into his morning Corn Flakes. It was Brown who urged the two sides to get together and talk things through.

Not that we can imagine the talks going that well. While BA has accused Unite of taking a ‘cynical' approach, the union has struck back by saying BA's ‘macho' management has held Christmas travel ‘hostage'. It's like two narky old relatives bickering over the turkey. And there are a million holidaymakers out there who'll now be hoping they don't end up getting stuffed.

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