Unite seeks BA negotiations - by announcing 20-day strike

The union is taking its usual measured approach - but surely it's time for compromise now.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Unite has gone nuclear in its ongoing row with BA: after rejecting the airline's latest offer, the union has announced that cabin crew will walk out on strike for four five-day periods in May and June, with only one day's respite between them. That basically means that BA flights will be disrupted for the best part of a month, slap-bang in the middle of the summer. Unite is claiming that it's the only way to get BA back to the negotiating table. But if it goes through with its threat, the cabin crew might not have much of an airline to come back to...

The latest strikes have been called for 18-22 May, 24-28 May, 30 May-3 June and 5-9 June - so that's 20 days in all (although it's effectively 23, since we can't imagine things will just return to normal in the 'rest' days), including the bank holiday weekend and school half term. And even if you're planning to go away after these dates, why would you risk booking BA any time soon? So the potential for disruption is huge - and it will lose BA much-needed revenue both in the short and long term.

We've already made it clear what we think of these strikes - they're short-sighted, reckless and (particularly on this scale) potentially crippling to BA, which is in nobody's interest. But the daft thing here is that the two sides seem to have resolved the original argument about pay and conditions; they're now apparently wrangling about the removal of free travel perks, and disciplinary measures arising from the last walk-out (so they're on strike about the last strike).

So while it's a bit rich for Unite to position this as a negotiating tactic, we can't help feeling that BA boss Willie Walsh is being a bit intransigent here: he's playing hardball over something that won't actually cost him very much money. We're sure it will go against every fibre of his being to give in to the unions - particularly when they use this kind of strong-arm tactic. But the main fight is done, and a 20-day strike might be a risk too far, even for him.

On a more positive note for BA, the collapse of the price-fixing trial yesterday looks like it could have some interesting ramifications. For a start, BA hinted that in light of the fresh evidence, it will take another look at the civil settlement it made with the OFT back in 2007 - in other words, it could claim back its £120m fine. What's more, the OFT - desperate to save a bit of face amid a storm of criticism of its handling of the affair - is threatening to review Virgin's immunity, on the grounds that they withheld vital evidence. BA would be forgiven for seeing that as poetic justice...

In today's bulletin:
Brown resignation sends pound plunging as investors fear power vacuum
Unite seeks BA negotiations - by announcing 20-day strike
RBS cuts 2,600 jobs - and high street suffers
Goldman to cull dozens of partners?
The Parent Project: The new rules of commuting

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