Business

Unite union offers to postpone BA strike ballot

Unite has offered to postpone its strike ballot of British Airways cabin crew in order to allow them time to consider its latest revised offer.

The union was due to begin balloting on Tuesday unless there was a breakthrough in the dispute, which has seen 22 days of strike action since March.

BA welcomed Unite's move calling it "a genuine opportunity to end" the row.

But Unite leader Tony Woodley said he would not be recommending the offer as it failed to reinstate travel perks.

On Friday the loss-making airline tabled a fresh offer to Unite that includes changes to pay structures that the airline says address cabin crew concerns.

These include new "top-up" payments and two years of guaranteed rises in basic salary from 2011.

On Sunday Mr Woodley, Unite's joint general secretary, described the offer as "interesting" and said it would be "inexplicable if we didn't put this offer to our members at this stage".

However, BA has withdrawn travel concessions for striking cabin crew, and Mr Woodley said the reinstatement of these was still central to resolving the dispute.

Mr Woodley told the BBC: "As a consequence of the company's last and final offer the union and its representatives will have no choice but to delay our vote in order to allow our members to consult on the offer."

But he said that failure to restore staff travel arrangements for cabin crew "prevents this offer from BA being the breakthrough everyone seeks".

Nevertheless, BA said it welcomed Unite's postponement of the ballot.

"We welcome this statement from the Unite leadership. We believe our offer is fair and reasonable and provides a genuine opportunity to end this dispute," BA said in a statement.

Business Secretary Vince Cable also welcomed Unite's move, telling the BBC's Andrew Marr show that it was "very good news" and "long overdue".

The latest offer was made following Acas-mediated talks between BA and Unite on Friday.

More pay

The offer contains two changes on pay, including two years of guaranteed rises in basic salary from February 2011.

There will also be a new top-up payment to ensure that existing cabin crew will still receive a minimum amount in route allowances.

New cabin crew being recruited in the autumn on new contracts will not have the same guarantees.

The dispute with cabin crew erupted last year when BA announced plans to cut the number of cabin crew operating on Heathrow long-haul flights.

Unite complained that the move amounted to contractual changes that they had not agreed to.

But the ballot that was due on Tuesday was in response to BA's handling of the previous strikes, including the withdrawal of travel concessions for striking workers, and disciplinary action taken against some union representatives.

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