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British Airways strengthens strike contingency plan; Teamsters, other unions, show solidarity

18-Mar-2010 9:33 AM

British Airways increased (17-Mar-2010) its schedule for the first period of its cabin crew strikes on 20-Mar-2010 to 22-Mar-2010, after larger volumes of cabin crew offered to work as normal since the first schedule release.

  • Revised schedule: The number of other airlines offering assistance has also increased from 50 on 15-Mar-2010 to over 60. As a result, BA has been able to reinstate some previously cancelled flights and provide extra capacity for both longhaul and shorthaul destinations. The carrier will now be able to operate 65% of services (BBC News, 17-Mar-2010). [more] Cabin crew union, Unite, responded (17-Mar-2010) stating it has written to UK Transport Secretary, Andrew Adonis, to ask that he investigates British Airways' plans to deploy a strike-breaking crew. The union says the Minister must take all steps to ensure that the reputation of UK aviation is not damaged by BA's determination to deploy under-trained novices as cabin crew during the strikes. Unite stated BA must prove they have taken all steps to ensure that those who are working on the planes have cleared stringent UK national security checks and that the strike-breaking crews have been vetted in accordance with the security requirements of BA's destination countries. British Airways responded stating it 1,000 volunteers have been trained to the same standards as regular flight attendants (Bloomberg, 17-Mar-2010). [more]
  • Unite has reportedly gained support from overseas unions for the period during the strike action (Dow Jones, 17-Mar-2010). Union support includes:
    • International Brotherhood of Teamsters (ITF) met with Unite on 17-Mar-2010 and stated it, along with the US Brotherhood of Teamsters and other affiliates, will support striking staff. Support may reportedly include picket lines and refusing to service aircraft (The Guardian, 17-Mar-2010);
    • Australia’s Transport Workers' Union (TWU) called on the Australian Government to ensure BA volunteer cabin crew are properly qualified;
    • Germany’s Ver.di stated its ground handlers would refuse to cooperate with strike-breaking staff (Sky News, 18-Mar-2010). The union added that it cannot legally launch solidarity strikes, but if its staff are targeted by BA, it would join the strike immediately;
    • Spanish and Italian unions have also reportedly offered support (CNN, 17-Mar-2010). British Airways responded stated it was sad to see the union seeking backing for support of its “unjustified strikes against an iconic British brand”;
  • "Strike strategy" meeting: Unite may now reportedly call a mass meeting with cabin crew on 19-Mar-2010 to outline its “strike strategy”.
  • Government responses: UK opposition leader, David Cameron, has now accused Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, of not acting in the national interest in regards to the strike (Express.co.uk, 17-Mar-2010). Mr Brown responded stating he still believes a deal between BA and Unite is possible (Reuters/Financial Times, 17-Mar-2010).

British Airways: "The determination of our colleagues across the whole business to keep the flag flying this weekend is increasing. I am delighted by the numbers of cabin crew who have been getting in touch with us to express their disillusion with Unite's position. Our crews just want to work as normal, do their usual terrific job and look after our customers. We will now have the potential to fly more than 4,000 additional customers per day and serve more destinations. We believe this is a helpful move at a time when customers are facing rising fares with alternative carriers. Morale among our operations teams is high. Yesterday was our most punctual day at Heathrow for months, thanks to the efforts of all parts of the airline,"Willie Walsh, CEO. Source: British Airways, 17-Mar-2010.

Unite: "This sector (aviation) is of national importance, and has rightly been given significant support by your government. Unite is now writing formally to you request an urgent investigation by your department into the rushing through of stand-in cabin crew and ask that you take all steps to assure yourself, the government and the travelling public that, during this dispute, corners have not been cut in the standards which govern our aviation industry. Irrespective of the views ministers may hold on the nature of this dispute, we know that your first concern is to ensure that the travelling public does not suffer. Therefore, we are urging you as secretary of state for transport to demand that BA responds to you urgently on these two principal matters of concern, giving you total assurance that no corners are being cut with passenger safety and security in this country or in any of the BA designation countries...Experienced, professional cabin crew save lives, a fact that has been proven on many occasions whether in times of aircraft emergency or in relation to individual passengers suffering a serious ill health emergency, such as in New York just last week. ‘Volunteer’ crews simply will not have the expertise to deliver such care, placing the travelling public at serious risk should an incident occur, and setting a dangerous precedent for tolerating lower standards which other airlines may seek to follow. Deservedly, UK aviation has a world-wide reputation for high standards in both it operations and the calibre of people employed, and BA in particular embodies these values. It would be hugely damaging for our global reputation were these qualities to be sacrificed by one company's pursuance of a conflict and not negotiation," Steve Turner, National Officer – Civil Air Transport. Source: Unite, 17-Mar-2010.

International Brotherhood of Teamsters: “There's a feeling among the BA cabin crews' colleagues in other countries and other airlines that the company isn't playing fair, and hasn't taken negotiations seriously. The result is a groundswell of support for the cabin crew and a search for ways to show it. Unless the dispute is resolved, we expect to see a range of lawful expressions of solidarity with the strikers from aviation workers around the world. They've had support from Unite in the past, and they're ready to help in return,” Gabriel Mocho, Civil Aviation Secretary. Source: Dow Jones, 17-Mar-2010.