British Airways cabin crew vote to stage walkout over pay during Christmas, New Year

More than 2,500 of BA's 16,000 cabin crew will strike some time after Dec 21 if a raise better than the 2 per cent currently on offer is not forthcoming, the Unite union said on Wednesday (Dec 14).
More than 2,500 of BA's 16,000 cabin crew will strike some time after Dec 21 if a raise better than the 2 per cent currently on offer is not forthcoming, the Unite union said on Wednesday (Dec 14).PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) - British Airways (BA) flight attendants voted to take industrial action over the Christmas and New Year travel season, threatening what would be the carrier's first major walkout in six years.

More than 2,500 of BA's 16,000 cabin crew will strike some time after Dec 21 if a raise better than the 2 per cent currently on offer is not forthcoming, the Unite union said on Wednesday (Dec 14).

The employees are qualified to work on a range of aircraft, so that a walkout would impact both short- and long-haul routes.

"BA pay rates are indefensible and the crew are at breaking point," Unite official Matt Smith said in a statement, adding that a significant number of members have had to take second jobs and that many go to work unfit to fly because they can't afford to take time off.

British Airways hasn't suffered a single strike since the last action by cabin crew in 2010, according to a spokesman. That dispute, which saw 22 days of walkouts in a year, ended in defeat for unions in 2011 after workers accepted a deal that included drastic salary cuts for new recruits.

IAG's closest competitors Air France-KLM Group and Deutsche Lufthansa AG have suffered numerous walkouts in recent years as they've sought to cut costs and restructure in order to combat a squeeze from discount carriers in Europe and Persian Gulf operators on long-haul routes.

Salaries for new British Airways "mixed fleet" cabin crew have been advertised as being worth between £21,000 and £25,000 (S$38,000 and S$45,000) a year, but in practice begin at £12,000 plus an additional £3 for each hour flying, according to Unite.

BA said it has proposed "a fair and reasonable pay increase" worth 7 per cent over three years, in line with pay at rival carriers.

Because Unite members among mixed-fleet crews account for only about 15 per cent of the total the impact of any walkout will be limited, it said. Other crew groups participated in the last strike, increasing its scope.