LONDON – British Transport Secretary Andrew Adonis urged cabin crew at British Airways on Sunday to call off their planned strikes this month, saying it threatened the company’s very existence.
Cabin crew are due to walk out on seven days this month after talks between the airline and unions on changes to working practices broke down. Analysts say the dispute could cost the airline around 140 million pounds ($212 million).
Asked if he believed the strike put the future of British Airways in danger, Adonis told the BBC: “Yes I do … The stakes are incredibly high in this strike.”
“It is not only the damage it is going to do to passengers and the inconvenience it is going to cause, which is quite disproportionate to the issues at stake, but also the threat it poses to the future of one of our great companies.”
The planned strike would “threaten the very existence of British Airways,” he said.
The Unite union said on Friday its members would strike for three days from March 20 and for four days from March 27, while BA removed a formal offer made to staff on Thursday, saying it had been conditional on Unite not naming any strike dates.
Adonis said the strike would be deeply damaging to the economy and could threaten the jobs of the union’s members.
“They (the union) should call off this strike. They should get back into negotiations with British Airways again,” he said.
NEW TALKS URGED
Adonis urged the union to sit down with management to seek a solution in the short time before the airline must announce what would happen to flights if the strike went ahead.
Derek Simpson, joint leader of Unite, said Adonis was not aware of all the facts.
“The negotiations that Lord Adonis mentions we should get back to have been scuppered by management withdrawing their offer,” he told Sky News.
“I am quite happy to join in any discussions but it has to be predicated on the idea that management restores its offer (or) we have nothing to consider,” he said.
With a British election widely expected on May 6 and Unite a major donor to the ruling Labour Party, the dispute is becoming embroiled in politics.
The opposition Conservative Party’s chairman, Eric Pickles, wrote to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Sunday urging him to condemn the strike and suspend Labour’s financial relationship with Unite until the dispute is settled and the strikes are called off.
“How can you talk about protecting jobs and beating the recession when you are so reliant on this increasingly militant union that is intent on bringing a British company to its knees?” he wrote.
BA said Unite’s proposals to save the airline money fell significantly short of helping it reach its 60 million-pound cost-saving target and would leave crew much worse off.
BA has trained staff from other areas of the company to fill in as cabin crew during the strike and has said it will hire 23 fully-crewed planes from charter companies to help run flights from London’s Heathrow airport.