Unions have reacted angrily to British Airways’ move to train its ground staff as cabin crew.
The news came out as talks between BA and union bosses broke down without any resolution to the ongoing dispute over contracts.
Unite has announced it will re-ballot its members on Monday (January 25) on whether to strike, making the threat of an Easter walk-out possible.
BA said it was “saddened but not surprised” at the decision to hold another ballot.
BA’s chief executive Willie Walsh has written to all the airline’s 38,000 staff offering them the opportunity to become volunteer cabin crew.
He said: “I am asking for volunteers to back BA by training to work alongside cabin crew who choose not to support a strike, so we are ready to keep our customers flying as much as we possibly can if this strike goes ahead.”
BA hopes that staff can be trained and certified by the beginning of March.
A spokeswoman for the Civil Aviation Authority said BA staff would be allowed to work as cabin crew if they were tutored by accredited trainers.
Walsh’s request has reminders of last year’s appeal to staff to help save the airline when, led by him, he asked staff to forego a month’s salary.
It is also the latest attempt to stave off a strike which would be disastrous for the airline, which is on course to lose a £1bn this year.
In a ballot last month, cabin crew voted 92% in favour of strike action.
However, BA contested the decision in the High Court and the strike was subsequently ruled illegal as the union had counted votes from staff who had left the airline or who had accepted voluntary redundancy.
Unite joint general secretary, Tony Woodley, said: ‘This is a provocative attempt by BA to disrupt negotiations.
‘It is inconceivable that BA should even be thinking of running its airline – the national carrier – with scab labour who have had only minimum training.
‘This shows contempt for professionalism of cabin crew.’
Unite added it was ‘prepared to meet any place, any time, to try to reach an agreement’.