BA staff plan strikes as talks break down

British Airways cabin crew are set to stage a series of strikes over pay, sickness absence and staffing following the breakdown of talks.

The proposed series of three 72-hour strikes by members of the Transport and General Worker’s Union (T&G) will start on Monday 29 January, with two further walkouts planned for February. T&G representatives have said its members have felt ‘bullied’ into coming into work when sick due to BA management’s heavy-handed approach of monitoring sick leave, while a division between staff has been caused by the lower pay levels offered to new recruits.

A BA spokesperson said that the T&G’s latest position includes demands for significant pay increases of up to 18% and "a return to the excessive levels of absence experienced before our absence management policy was introduced." In October 2005, BA introduced a†new absence policy for cabin crew to cut the average number of days taken off sick from 22 a year. Part of the absence policy requires that any absence from work is discussed in person and beyond that, certain triggers, such as more than one period of absence in three months, potentially results in a four stage absence review.

The airline claimed that the union’s demands to relax its sickness absence policy would result in average absence rates for cabin crew rising back towards 22 days a year. The union is also said, in a list leaked by BA, to have requested that crew should be automatically exempt from the absence policy if they are suffering from medical conditions such as colds, diarrohea and vomiting, visible injuries, cold sores, herpes and ingrowing toenails.

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BA claims that meeting the T&G’s demands could increase its annual costs by £37m due to extra staffing and allowances. Its spokesman added: "We have recognised the genuine concerns of our cabin crew about our absence management policy and, at the T&G’s request, have tabled serious proposals to change the way the policy is applied to cabin crew."

Both the T&G and BA say they are still open to talks and BA has turned to conciliation service Acas in the latest attempt to resolve the dispute and prevent strike action. Willie Walsh, BA’s chief executive, said: "A strike would be completely unnecessary and unjustified. I am convinced we can settle the issues at the centre of this dispute through sensible discussion and negotiation."