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BA crew banks on Heathrow chaos

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Page last updated: 8th Feb 2011 - 02:24 PM

British Airways’ (BA) cabin crew will employ “guerrilla tactics” in their long-running battle against their overlords, according to the Telegraph. Whilst the term invokes images of disguised partisans ambushing enemy convoys, BA’s disgruntled employees will not be donning their balaclavas. Instead, the 10,000 members of the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) will wage a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign on the airline’s chief executive, Willie Walsh.

The largest branch of workers union, Unite, BASSA, seems to have realised that conventional work stoppages, pickets, and media circuses are insufficient to sway Willie Walsh from his cause: namely, refusing to reinstate full travel perks to striking employees. The flag-carrying airline survived 22 days of strike action last year, as part of one of the longest industrial disputes in recent history. The airline lost £150m, but BASSA’s inability to break down BA’s defences resulted in an arguably worse fate for the union: 2,560 people quit BASSA between mid-2009 and the end of 2010, as confidence in the branch collapsed.

In what could be a last stand for BASSA members, the union is now proposing a different approach to industrial action. Walkouts will be voted for, and announced, as normal, but the order to strike will be withdrawn “at the last minute”. The ensuing confusion could throw airports served by BA into chaos, as the carrier will be forced to contend with two groups of people (strikers and volunteers) reporting for work – and be legally obliged to pay them both for the trouble.

BASSA has also suggested that members work to rule, a move that could result in the end of ‘goodwill activities’, such as helping a passenger with their luggage. Whilst merely spiteful on the surface, Michael Ryley of law firm, Pinsent Masons, notes that goodwill is an integral part of customer-employee relations, and refusing to cooperate goes “beyond” working to rule. “It is a dangerous line to take,” Mr Ryley told the Telegraph.

Commenting on BASSA’s plans, a BA spokesperson was unfazed, saying “We are confident that our contingency plans will allow us to operate normal timetables at Gatwick and London City.” At Heathrow, BA expects its long-haul flights to be unaffected. However, some short-haul flights could be subject to delays.

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