British Airways PLC called in a government-backed mediator Monday in a bid to avert a planned three-day strike this month by the carrier's cabin crew over working conditions.
The Transport and General Worker's Union announced Sunday that thousands of BA staff would walk out from Jan. 29 to 31 following the breakdown of talks aimed at resolving a row over sickness absence, pay and staffing.
It also advised the airline that it would propose further walkouts on Feb. 5-7 and Feb. 12-14 if the dispute is not resolved.
BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said that strike action was "completely unnecessary and unjustified," blaming excessive demands by the union in recent negotiations for the failure of the talks.
Walsh said the airline has asked the conciliation service ACAS to help avert the strike and that BA management were ready to meet with ACAS officials at any time to discuss possible resolutions to the dispute.
"I am convinced we can settle the issues at the center of this dispute through sensible discussion and negotiation," he said.
BA fears that the strikes will cause massive disruption for passengers and further damage to the airline, which has been hit in recent months by security and weather problems.
The airline said that customers who had booked flights between Monday Jan. 29 and Friday Feb. 16 would be allowed to change the date of their flights.
BA and the union held several meetings last week to try to avert the strike, following a 96 percent vote for strike by the 11,000 cabin crew workers. The carrier has defended its new stricter sickness policy, saying it has reduced average levels of absence among cabin crew from 22 days a year to 12 days.
BA has struggled in recent years to prevent strike action.
Last year, a walkout by staff at catering firm Gate Gourmet and BA ground workers during the peak August holiday season led to hundreds of canceled flights.
Analysts said the new action could cost the airline between 10 million pounds ($20 million) and 15 million pounds ($29.6 million) a day.
The carrier earlier this month pledged to pay a one-time cash contribution of 800 million pounds ($1.6 billion) plus annual contributions of 280 million pounds ($550 million) to help reduce its gaping 2.1 billion pound ($4.1 billion) pension fund deficit in a bid to avoid industrial action in a separate union dispute.
BA shares fell 1.4 percent to 537 pence ($10.60) on the London Stock Exchange.
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