Thousands of British Airways (BA) cabin crew started voting on Monday this week on whether to strike against attacks on working practices.
BA management pushed through new employment contracts on Monday morning.
The ballot closes on 14 December and, if staff vote in favour of industrial action, the first strike could start a week later on 21 December.
BA chief executive Willie Walsh is proposing a two-year pay freeze for crew, reduced holidays and cuts to the allowances for working on long-haul flights. New employees will start on different contracts without the long-haul bonuses and be paid less.
He has stripped £400 million of costs from BA in the past six months and has already extracted a pay cut from BA’s pilots. Of the 14,000 cabin crew affected, more than 3,000 will move to part-time work and 1,000 are being pushed to take voluntary redundancy.
The vote came in the context of BA’s plans to merge with Spain’s Iberia airline.
Attacking workers in the name of cost-cutting is one of the main factors behind the £4.5 billion merger, which will create Europe’s largest airline by passenger volume.
Walsh is determined to spread his attacks saying, “further cost reduction is essential”. He said, “I’m not going to stop managing the business to meet the challenges we face. That [the strike threat] is irrelevant to me. I don’t give any consideration to that at all.”
Walsh has form – he built his reputation at Aer Lingus where he slashed costs by 30 percent and shed more than a third of workers.
The new company, to be known as TopCo, is also facing discontent from workers in Spain. Iberia’s cabin crew are taking a series of strikes against cuts and over pay.
Iberia has proposed a two-year salary freeze and early retirement for cabin crew.
There is a fight on in the new company and action in both Spain and the UK will by the best way to win it.
The first step will be getting a resounding yes to action in the cabin crew ballot.