ANOTHER strike ballot of British Airways cabin crew will be held although their leaders are trying "very hard" to reach a settlement with the airline as the final stage of industrial action ends, a union official said today.
Derek Simpson, joint general secretary of Unite, said the sticking point in the long-running row was now a "silly one", about the removal of travel concessions from those who have taken action.
Union members walked out for the 22nd day today in the long-running dispute which has cost the carrier more than £150 million, with further action threatened for the summer unless the deadlock is broken.
The airline’s chief executive Willie Walsh has announced cuts in business and first-class fares, pledging to "keep the flag flying" throughout the summer.
Mr Simpson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that there had been movement on the original cause of the dispute - cost-cutting - leaving the removal of travel concessions as the sticking point.
"It makes you wonder why British Airways is continuing to make this an issue. We are still trying very hard to get a settlement, but Willie Walsh, having put himself in a corner, is desperate not to settle.
"There will be another ballot and the outcome of that will determine what we do."
Mr Simpson repeated his belief that Mr Walsh wanted to "break" the union, or achieve "regime change" at the branch which represents cabin crew, Bassa.
Len McCluskey, Unite’s assistant general secretary, will address a rally of striking cabin crew near Heathrow airport later today and will praise their "dignified stance" throughout the dispute in the face of "unprecedented intimidation" by BA management.
The two sides continued to clash over the impact of the strikes, with BA insisting it was running 80% of long-haul flights from Heathrow despite the industrial action, while Unite claimed that BA failed to operate 43% of its reduced schedule yesterday.
BA maintained it ran more services during the current five-day walkout, saying more crew had turned up for work.
A number of striking cabin crew told MPs yesterday there was a "climate of fear" at the airline, as they explained their side of the row.
Unite said about 60 crew members had now been suspended and eight sacked in recent weeks, mainly for "trivial reasons", and has accused the airline of a "crackdown" on union members.
BA has strongly denied the charge, maintaining it was duty-bound to follow its disciplinary code.
BA has been aiming to operate around 80% of long-haul flights from Heathrow despite the strikes, up from 70% and 60% in the past two strike periods, and 60% of short-haul flights, up from 55% and 50%.
BA said it was slashing Club World business-class fares by up to £900 and selected first-class fares by more than £1,500 in its premium leisure sale starting tomorrow.
Mr Walsh said: "Customers can take advantage of these great discounts with confidence. We recognise that some may be concerned about the possibility of future disruption but it is our intention to keep flying 100% of our long-haul operation throughout the coming months. We will keep the flag flying."
The conciliation service Acas has said it expects a date to be set shortly for peace talks to resume.
A number of Labour MPs have signed a Commons motion expressing "deep concern" that there has been no settlement to the dispute.
The motion noted that this was now the longest-running strike in recent British aviation history and was damaging the reputation and standing of the UK’s national carrier.