BA cabin crew vote this week to end 18 months of strife – The agreement includes a two-year pay deal and the return of travel perks for staff who took part in walkouts last year

May 31, 2011

British Airways cabin crew will begin voting on a peace deal this week that could end the airline’s worst industrial dispute.

The Unite trade union is preparing to post ballot papers to nearly 10,000 crew with a letter from its general secretary, Len McCluskey, recommending a vote in favour of the agreement. The poll on the latest attempt to end the industrial conflict will close on 22 June, 18 months after Unite opened its first strike ballot on the dispute. So far the only indication of support for the deal is approximate, after hundreds of crew attending a meeting at Heathrow airport this month backed a proposal to put the deal to a wider vote.

The peace deal being voted on was thrashed out between McCluskey and BA’s new chief executive, Keith Williams, after two previous agreements were rejected by Unite. Both sides issued conciliatory statements when the agreement was unveiled, with Unite’s leader praising the approach of his BA counterpart this month.

“There is a change within the management psyche at BA, driven by the chief executive. If we embrace that, we are confident that the future will be good,” said McCluskey. Before the deal was struck, BA passengers faced the threat of summer strikes after crew voted in March for walkouts for the fourth time since the dispute began.

The agreement includes a two-year pay deal and the return of travel perks for thousands of staff who took part in 22 days of walkouts last year, which cost BA £150m. It also gives the Acas conciliation service a role in arbitrating the cases of staff who were sacked or disciplined during the dispute. Both sides have resisted sounding triumphalist amid hopes at senior levels that the dispute is coming to an end.

Speaking after recommending the deal to crew at Heathrow this month, McCluskey said: “I don’t think this is about winning or losing. If there is any victory, it is a victory for common sense.”

BA said it was pleased to have reached a point where “we can put this dispute behind us.” Its decision to cut staffing levels on long-haul flights, which triggered the dispute in 2009, has not been reversed. BA is also creating a separate fleet of crew on different pay and conditions, which Unite had initially opposed.

Hopes for a resolution to the most high-profile industrial dispute since the 2002 firefighters’ strike rose after a change at the top of Unite and BA. Williams replaced Willie Walsh, who became chief of BA’s parent, International Airlines Group, while McCluskey assumed control from the joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson. The enmity between both sides reached surreal heights last year when members of the Socialist Workers Party stormed talks at the Acas conciliation service.

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