New BA Boss Set for Clash with Unions over Job Cuts
Byline: ROBERT LEA
A STAFF cull at British Airways likely to cost thousands of jobs under new chief executive Willie Walsh, is to kick off with secret plans to axe 500 baggage handlers and cargo loaders - workers who played a major role in this summer's Gate Gourmet fiasco.
The job cuts will put Walsh on a collision course with the trade unions, which have already begun flexing their muscles again.
Sources at Heathrow have confirmed that BA is looking to cut up to a fifth of staff numbers in certain roles at the international hub.
Initial focus is on the 2500-strong Heathrow baggage and cargo staff who will be caught up in the consolidation of BA's existing operations at Terminals 1 and 4 with the airline's new home in Terminal 5.
BA ramp workers caused mayhem at the height of the summer season, stranding 100,000 passengers, after an unofficial, 36-hour walkout in support of sacked workers at BA's in-flight caterer Gate Gourmet.
Union leaders are bracing themselves for the announcement of "strategic plans" by Walsh in the coming weeks after he takes over from retiring chief executive Sir Rod Eddington this weekend.
Walsh is inheriting Eddington's so-called "Fit for Five" business plan designed to shake up the airline further after the post-9/11 "Future Size and Shape" restructuring which cost 14,000 BA workers their jobs. Within that are plans to reduce the annual BA wage bill by [pounds sterling]300 million.
That represents around 13% of the airline's total annual staff costs and would equate to a cut of 6000 jobs out of BA's total 46,000 workforce.
The airline says, however, that it is looking at changing working practices as well as voluntary redundancies.
Walsh, 43, has a hard-nosed reputation. At Aer Lingus where he was chief executive until last year, he slashed a third of the workforce - 2000 jobs - in reaction to the aviation industry recession after the terrorist attacks of September 11, But the Irish state-owned airline lost the support of unions for a further 1400 job cuts, and then fell out with Prime Minister Bertie Ahern who refused to privatise the carrier. …