British Airways unions call on chief executive Walsh to step aside from negotiations

The British Airways (BA) dispute with cabin crew could be resolved if chief executive Willie Walsh stepped aside in negotiations in favour of Keith Williams, the airline’s chief financial officer, unions claimed last night.

The British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa), which represents the airline’s 12,000 cabin crew, believes the dispute could be brought to a swift halt if Williams were allowed to lead negotiations, reports the Daily Telegraph.

“Without Walsh a deal would be much easier to pick up because of the trust involved,” said Duncan Holley, branch secretary of Bassa. “Keith Williams is well respected and there is a feeling within the community that we could forge a much better relationship with him. If Keith came to us with a deal, we would be much more likely to accept it.”

Williams, who is due to take over as BA’s chief executive when Walsh steps up to head the new company which will be created when BA merges with Iberia later this year, has won praise for negotiating a deal with all the BA unions tackling the airline’s £3.7bn pension hole.

“The fact that we were able to resolve BA’s pension difficulties in a consensual way shows that Unite can readily strike a deal with the company provided only that there is a reasonable manager, like Keith Williams, on the other side of the negotiating table,” said a source at Unite.

The call came as BA signalled that is was ready to return to court to challenge the legality of the strikes at a full hearing, which could take place some time after the dispute is settled.

Last week, Unite won an appeal against a High Court ruling which had found its planned strikes were unlawful. As a result, a five-day strike started on Monday, leading to dozens of cancellations. But BA insisted that its revised operation was still working well, with minimal inconvenience to passengers.

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