British Airways asks 40,000 staff to work for nothing in desperate fight for survival

British Airways planes on the tarmac at Heathrow Airport. BA ground staff have already rejected the company’s proposals by six to one

British Airways boss Willie Walsh is asking his 40,000 staff to work for nothing to save the airline.

The astonishing plea comes as BA faces what Mr Walsh says is a ‘fight for survival’.

The company has written directly to its 40,000 employees asking them to volunteer for up to four weeks of unpaid work.

Mr Walsh announced last week that he would work unpaid for the month of July – forgoing £61,000 in salary. His chief financial officer Keith Williams is also working unpaid for the month.

The appeal to staff goes much further than earlier requests for a pay freeze or unpaid leave.

It also undermines the unions with whom BA is negotiating a wider package of cost- cutting measures.

But it infuriated cabin crew. One said: ‘BA now stands for “B***** all” because that’s what they want to now pay us. That’s the calibre of management we have at British Airways.’

Passengers face the threat of a summer of strikes as the airline goes into battle with unions this week for a deal to slash costs and sweep away what it sees as restrictive practices. BA is understood to be seeking up to 4,000 job cuts – one in ten of the workforce – including 2,000 voluntary redundancies among the 14,000 cabin crew.

The call for unpaid work is set out in individual letters to staff, and in the BA in-house newspaper British Airways News under the headline Action Time.

It says bluntly: ‘Colleagues are being urged to help the airline’s cash-saving drive by signing up for unpaid leave or unpaid work.

‘From tomorrow, people will be able to opt for blocks of unpaid leave or unpaid work, with salary deductions spread over three to six months, wherever possible.’

‘The new unpaid work option means people can contribute to the cash-saving effort by coming to work while effectively volunteering for a small cut in base pay.’

BA adds that the action ‘will help minimise the financial impact on individuals, while helping to immediately save cash for the business’.

It denied that those who volunteer-for unpaid work will be given preference when any subsequent redundancies are considered.

The company is also asking staff to consider temporary or permanent part-time work, short-term unpaid leave of up to four weeks, or long-term unpaid leave of between one and 12 months.

Chief executive Mr Walsh said: ‘I am looking for every single part of the company to take part in

some way. It really counts. We face a fight for survival.

‘These are the toughest trading conditions we have ever seen and there simply are no green shoots.

‘Our survival depends on everyone contributing to changes that permanently remove costs from every part of the business.’

Mr Walsh has set a deadline of June 24 for employees to volunteer for unpaid work of one to four weeks. He has also set a deadline of June 30 for a deal with unions, who say he will impose terms if he cannot get prior agreement.

Leaders of all the main BA unions are meeting management this week for talks on permanent cuts on pay, conditions and the loss of up to 4,000 jobs.

The biggest conflict is with 14,000 cabin crew who are gearing up for a major showdown with Mr Walsh which – if it leads to industrial action and strikes – will mean chaos for tens of thousands of holidaymakers.

The Daily Mail has learned that BA ground staff have already rejected the company’s proposals by six to one. Insiders say 2,987 voted No while only 487 backed the measures. One said: ‘Even the groundstaff are squaring up to Willie for a strike.’

Pilots are also due to be balloted but are proving ‘more flexible’ and are even considering a pay cut.

BA has frozen pay and axed more than 2,500 jobs since last summer – including 780 management posts. It has revealed a record annual loss of £ 401million, which it blamed on rising oil prices adding almost £1billion to last year’s fuel bill, and a major fall in passenger numbers.

By Ray Massey, Transport Editor
Last updated at 1:24 PM on 16th June 2009

Source: Daily Mail

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