British Airways has told flight attendants that it wants to cut 2,000 jobs, sparking fears of a summer of strike action.
Chief executive Willie Walsh has also set a three-week deadline to agree to the reductions, saying the redundancies would, if necessary, be compulsory as his airline attempts to cut its 14,000-strong team of cabin crew to 12,000.
Speaking at the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Kuala Lumpur, the BA chief executive said: “There needs to be urgency around the discussions we are having.”
Asked if BA was considering compulsory redundancies, Walsh said: “I would not rule that out. We will take whatever steps are necessary to see the business through this crisis.”
Talks with the Unite, GMB and the Balpa pilots union will begin today.
Following a meeting of ground staff, insiders at the Unite union said 2,987 workers voted “No” while only 487 backed the cost-cutting proposals proposed by BA chief executive Willie Walsh. Sources at Unite have said: “Even the ground staff are squaring up to Willie for a strike.”
BA has put 32 money-saving proposals to its flight attendants, including cutting annual leave from 36 days to 34. It also wants a two-year pay freeze and a reduction in the allowances paid to crew who fly long-haul.
A dispute with flight attendants two years ago cost the airline £80m. Although they called off a threatened strike at the 11th hour, BA was left with empty terminals at Heathrow airport after passengers avoided the airline or sought compensation for their bookings.
Trade unions have called for short-term pay changes but are so far balking at permanent alterations to their contracts. However, Walsh was adamant that airlines face a prolonged downturn and added that any economic recovery would not be strong enough.
“There will not be an economic recovery that will be quick enough or strong enough to address the challenges. Our people understand that we have to take action.”
BA staff have also been warned that they could be fired if they take time off work to attend mass protests over the pay and job cuts.
Meanwhile pilots have agreed to 100 voluntary redundancies and pay cuts across the board for all pilots.
Last week Walsh has sparked controversy by admitting BA could close its salary pension scheme to 100,000 existing members as part of a programme to stem record losses, and smooth the way for a merger with Iberia.
Concerns over the pension liability on BA’s balance have been a major stumbling block in its all-share merger talks with Iberia. The Spanish airline has requested a adjustment mechanism to protect it from any increase in the deficit.
The UK flag-carrier said that all options to confront its pension deficit would be reviewed, despite it risking a fraught confrontation with the workforce.