sexta-feira, 28 de dezembro de 2007

Airport chaos looms as BAA strikes talks fail

The prospect of ruined travel plans for hundreds of thousands of air passengers in the New Year remains after talks to avert crippling airport strikes failed.

Seven of Britain's biggest airports including Heathrow and Gatwick are now set to be closed by industrial action next month.

The strikes, over a pensions row, will cause major disruption for people taking ski-ing holidays and winter sunshine breaks as well as business travellers.

No further dates have been set for negotiations although union officials said there is still time for another attempt to head off two 24-hour and one 48-hour strike in January.

The first 24-hour walkout is due on January 7, followed by another strike on January 14 and a 48-hour stoppage from January 17 at Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports.

Leaders of the union Unite met for several hours with the airports' owners BAA to try to resolve the pensions dispute, but the negotiations remained deadlocked.

A union spokesman said the company had refused to back down over a controversial decision to close its final salary pension scheme to new entrants.

"As things stand, the industrial action set to begin on January 7 will go ahead," said the spokesman.

No date has been set for any further meetings between the two sides.

The union has warned that all seven airports will close if the strikes go ahead because they involve crucial staff such as firefighters, security and maintenance workers.

The union members voted by more then 2:1 in favour of industrial action last week in protest at the pensions decision which the union said had been made without negotiation by the Spanish owners of BAA, Ferrovial.

The union stressed it had held off from taking industrial action for the Christmas period but made it clear tonight that the strikes will go ahead unless the company changes its mind.

A spokesman for BAA said: "BAA is disappointed that today's talks have not succeeded in resolving this dispute.

"As we have said throughout we believe the threat of industrial action is unnecessary because we have guaranteed that existing workers will not be affected by the change to the pension scheme.

"Today we gave further details of an improved guarantee to deal with issues raised by existing employees. We also provided more assurances about the highly competitive replacement direct contribution scheme.

"We will continue to do all we can to resolve this dispute since we believe that a strike would not be in the interests of our passengers or our staff."

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