No further negotiations are planned between British Airways and the Unite union ahead of a strike by cabin crew at the airline, both parties have confirmed.
Staff will walk out at midnight as part of four days of industrial action, with severe disruption expected across the British Airways network.
However, in an increasingly bitter dispute between the two sides, BA chief executive Willie Walsh confirmed in an interview this morning no new talks were planned, though he remained “available”.
“I met with Brendan Barber, [general secretary] of the Trades Union Congress, earlier this week. Brendan asked me if I would be available. I told him I would. I’m available at any stage if he gets the trade union to agree to meet, so I’m ready,” Mr Walsh said.
Speaking to BBC television, Mr Walsh also confirmed striking members of staff would have their travel perks permanently removed.
Staff at the airline are entitled to purchase standby tickets for British Airways flights at just a tenth of commercial prices; considered a major benefit by staff.
However, the decision to remove the perk was described as “unacceptable anti-union bullying” by Unite.
Mr Walsh denied these claims, saying staff were warned of the consequences of strike action, while there was no attempt to “break” Unite.
In a statement released ahead of the strike, British Airways said it would fly more than 75 per cent of customers booked to travel before March 30th, despite these four days being targeted for strikes by Unite.
Of approximately 240,000 customers originally booked to travel in the strike period, the airline expects to fly more than 180,000.
A further 18 per cent have been rebooked to travel on other carriers, or changed the dates of their British Airways flights to avoid the strike period. Several thousand customers have brought forward their departures to today.
In other develops, over a hundred leading academics have written to the Guardian newspaper, suggesting Walsh’s stand is overly aggressive, and deliberately calibrated to attack Unite.
“What other possible interpretation can there be for Willie Walsh rejecting Unite’s acceptance of BA’s previous offer or indeed of his marshalling of resources, including those of bitter industry rival Ryanair, to undermine the action of his staff?” read the letter.
“Mr Walsh and now prime minister Brown have made the error of underestimating the deep seated and justifiable anger of a loyal and dedicated workforce, whose continued trust and goodwill is a vital ingredient of customer care.”
Mr Walsh confirmed this morning he has not spoken to Gordon Brown since last weekend. The prime minister has previously branded the strike “deplorable”.
However, the airline countered, questioning why, if strike-breaking was the aim, had it involved the TUC and the conciliation service Acas to try to reach a negotiated settlement with the union in the dispute with cabin crew.
British Airways also pointed out Mr Walsh himself had spent three days at the TUC talking with union representatives.