British Airways has unveiled plans to break potential industrial action, including a replacement cabin crew task force of 1,000 volunteer staff who will have completed training by next week.
The airline’s chief executive, Willie Walsh, said he would also hire up to 23 fully crewed planes from a charter company to help run flights from Heathrow.
He also vowed to maintain all long-haul flights out of Gatwick, and half its short-haul services. None of its 50 daily flights from London City would be affected, Walsh honoured.
He also warned that he would not reverse the planned cabin cuts, which were announced in November, adding that a strike would force him to make even further cuts to recoup financial losses.
Workers union Unite argues that these were imposed without agreement, and is demanding a return to numbers before November before it withdraws from strike action.
Walsh said in his internal address that the two sides had had only two hours of talks in the past two weeks, which Unite dismissed as “utter nonsense”.
Unite has yet to set strike dates, but a large majority of its cabin crew members voted for action. Any strike under the latest ballot must begin by March 22 and Unite must give BA one week’s notice of a strike. It has ruled out strikes in the Easter school holidays.
Walsh said that 6,000 volunteers had come forward to keep flights running. BA’s contingency plan has not yet taken into consideration cabin crew who may work even amid a strike.
BA’s anti-strike initiatives are being praised in some quarters.
“This latest development is an interesting example of the innovative ways businesses can keep functioning in the face of staff strikes,” said Guy Lamb, employment partner at DLA Piper, told the BBC.
“Unlike the challenge to Royal Mail’s use of agency staff, there is nothing to stop an employer using their existing workforce to cover the roles of striking colleagues.”
He said that, “cross training staff can be a very effective way of maintaining ‘business as usual’ during periods of industrial action”, as long as BA complies with health and safety regulations and working time directives, and does not breach employees’ contracts of employment.