British Airways’ cabin crew warming up for strike over pay claims

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British Airways (BA) looks set to join the list of major European airlines that have endured industrial strife this year, following a ballot for strike action by cabin crew staff.

More than 2,500 cabin crew, represented by UK’s largest union Unite, have voted for action to begin after Dec. 21 over a pay claim. BA has criticized the uncertainty of the move.

Lufthansa, Air France and Scandinavian Airlines have been hit by strike action this year.

Unite said 79% of its members who voted in the ballot had opted for strike action, but did not say how many had actually voted. Those affected are members of Mixed Fleet crews that operate both short- and long-haul services from London Heathrow Airport.

In a statement, Unite said that since 2010, all new cabin crew employees had joined Mixed Fleet. It said earnings were advertised as being £21,000-£25,000 ($26,600-$31,700), “but in reality start at just over £12,000 plus £3 an hour flying pay.” The latter figure is just over the UK’s national minimum wage.

Unite said the staff had rejected a 2% pay offer from the airline and that onboard staff managers had their pay frozen for the past six years. “Meanwhile [International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO] Willie Walsh pocketed €8.8 million and parent company IAG reported profits of €1.4 billion, up 64% on last year.”

The union added that half its members in Mixed Fleet had taken on a second job to make ends meet and that many were going on duty unfit to fly as they could not afford to be off sick. “Some admitted sleeping in cars between flights because they could not afford the petrol to get home.” Mixed Fleet was experiencing high staff turnover because many staff found they could not afford to remain with the airline, the union said. It urged BA to return to the negotiating table with a better offer.

There was no indication whether strike action would take place over the busy Christmas and New Year period.

“We are extremely disappointed that the union is creating uncertainty for our customers,” BA said in a statement. “Mixed Fleet Unite represents about 15% of our cabin crew. We remain focused on resolving this issue as quickly as possible without any disruption to customers.

“We have proposed a fair and reasonable pay increase to Mixed Fleet cabin crew, which is in line with that accepted by other British Airways colleagues and which will ensure their reward levels remain in line with cabin crew at our airline competitors.”

A BA spokeswoman said the airline was working on a response to Unite’s claims that staff were going on duty while unwell.

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