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December 16, 2009

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BA strike set to ruin travelers' Christmas

A CHRISTMAS strike by British Airways cabin crew will disrupt the travel plans of thousands of passengers at one of the busiest times of the year.

Strikes are to begin December 22 and run until January 2, Len McCluskey, assistant general secretary for Britain's Unite union, said. He said 92.5 percent of workers voted in favor of striking.

"You don't often get ballot results like this unless there is a deep-rooted sense of anxiety, concern and anger," McCluskey said.

The struggling carrier has announced sweeping changes as part of its bid to cut costs, including axing 1,700 jobs, freezing pay for current staff and offering lower wages for new employees. The airline has suffered along with the rest of the industry because of lower demand for travel.

Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh called the action "completely unjustified" and accused unions of misleading cabin crews over the necessity and fairness of the airline's new pay and work proposals.

"It's no secret that British Airways is in financial difficulty. Like other global airlines, we have been hit extremely hard by the slump in business travel brought on by the world recession," Walsh said. "Reducing costs is absolutely essential even to begin heading back toward profitability and long-term survival."

Walsh said the company was working on contingency plans, and would announce them as soon as they were finalized.

The carrier posted a net loss of 208 million pounds (US$346 million) for the six months ending in September, its first loss in the period, as revenue fell 13.7 percent.

McCluskey said the union hoped that the action could still be avoided, noting the decision to strike was made with "a heavy heart."


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