Business

BA strike: Unite union considers dispute offer

Cabin crew arriving at the meeting
Image caption Cabin crew arriving for the meeting said they hoped to see an end to the dispute

Union members are meeting to consider an offer which could end the long-running dispute between British Airways and some cabin crew.

The Unite union is expected to recommend the terms of a deal which has been negotiated during talks with BA.

If those at the Heathrow meeting back the offer, a formal ballot of union members could be held within weeks.

This dispute began in 2009 over cost cutting but became bogged down over the loss of travel perks to striking staff.

BA staff arriving for the meeting in west London said they hoped it would result in an end to the dispute.

"We really all want it to be sorted out now. It has gone on too long," one cabin crew member told BBC News.

Staffing levels

The strikes have resulted in travel chaos for hundreds of thousands of passengers and the bill for the disruption caused to BA has been estimated to be £150m.

However, after 22 days of strikes over the past 18 months, hopes have been raised that an end to the row is in sight.

Negotiations between the two sides resumed in March, when cabin crew voted in favour of a further round of industrial action, and have been going on for weeks.

The union held back from announcing strike dates pending the outcome of the talks.

A spokesman for the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association - a branch of Unite - confirmed that "talks have now concluded to the satisfaction of both parties".

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, who has held talks with BA chief executive Keith Williams, will address a mass meeting of union members and the union leadership is expected to recommend they accept the offer.

If they do, a formal ballot will be held, with the result expected in July. This raises the prospect of BA flights being free from disruption through the summer.

The dispute started in November 2009 as a row about staffing levels on some long-haul flights. BA reduced the number of cabin crew on long-haul flights from 15 to 14 and introduced a two-year pay freeze from 2010.

Unite said this would hit passenger services and affect the earnings and career prospects of cabin crew.

But the union's demands shifted to the reinstatement of some workers sacked during industrial action and the decision, affecting about 7,000 Unite members, to take away travel perks from striking staff.

Leadership changes

Progress is thought to have been made on those two issues, which were the main sticking points, and reports suggest the proposed deal would also cover union representation and pay.

Former British Airways chief executive Willie Walsh became the focus of the anger of many union members during the dispute.

Mr Walsh has since moved on to head the company formed by the merger of BA and the Spanish carrier Iberia, International Airlines Group, and was succeeded by Mr Williams.

Mr McCluskey was elected in November 2010 to succeed former joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson.

BBC News industry correspondent John Moylan said the change in leaderships on both sides had given fresh impetus to resolve the dispute.

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