British Airways cabin crews will strike over the Christmas period, their union said Monday, throwing the plans of thousands of holiday-makers into uncertainty at one of the busiest times of the year.
Strikes will begin Dec. 22 and run for a dozen days, until Jan. 2, said Len McCluskey, the assistant general secretary for Britain's Unite union. McCluskey said 92.5 percent of workers voted in favor of the action.
"We are prepared to discuss anything - any issue," McCluskey said at a news conference.
The struggling carrier has announced sweeping changes as part of its effort 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 due to lower demand for travel during the global recession.
Chief Executive Officer Willie Walsh said the cabin crews had been misled by the union about the necessity and fairness of the airline's new pay and work proposals.
"Our cabin crew union refuses to acknowledge what is going on around it," the outspoken Walsh wrote in Monday's Daily Mail newspaper. "Like King Canute, it sits by the water's edge shouting at the waves of recession and competition to go back."
"This cannot work," he added. "And though the union may be bent on self-destruction, I will not allow British Airways to be pulled under."
The airline, which is struggling as the global downturn eats away at demand for air travel, has defended the cost-savings measures as necessary to move back to profitability. It posted a net loss of 208 million pounds ($346 million) for the six months ending in September, its first-ever loss in the period, as revenue fell by 13.7 percent.
BA also revealed Monday that its pension deficit has blown out further to 3.7 billion pounds, from 2.1 billion pounds in 2006, and said it would consult with employees about a recovery plan.
The union has argued that the changes, introduced in mid-November, has stopped members from doing their jobs properly and were imposed in breach of contract.
Cabin crews agreed last month to fly with reduced staffing after failing to win a court injunction banning the changes last month until a High Court decision on the dispute is due on Feb. 1.
It would be the first walkout since three days of action in 1997.
"It's an incredibly sad day for the BA brand," said Bob Atkinson, of travel Web site travelsupermarket.com. "The union could have easily opted for a time when fewer passengers are traveling. After all, they are the people who pay for the tickets that ultimately pay the crew's wages.
"So the action is unlikely to gain sympathy from the public who will just see this as a selfish attack on the people the crews need to keep them in work."
A statement from the British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association, a section of Unite, said they had been forced into industrial action by the company.
"We are deeply saddened to have reached the point where we must take industrial action to get our voices heard, but feel that we have been left with no other choice," the statement said. "We do not want to cause inconvenience, so even at this late stage we offer an opportunity for disruption not to occur."
Shares in BA fell to 199.90 pence immediately after the announcement, down 1.40 pence, or 0.69 percent.