Striking British Airways cabin crew offered on Monday to resume talks with the company to try to settle a dispute that could damage the ruling Labour Party in an election due within weeks.
Cabin crew were due to return to work on Tuesday after a three-day stoppage the airline said had cost it an estimated 7 million pounds ($10.46 million) a day, but which had not broadly affected its profits outlook.
The issue is a headache for Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party because it involves the Unite union which is the party's largest financial backer.
The opposition centre-right Conservatives, leading the polls ahead of what is expected to be a closely fought election, says a weak government is at the mercy of union paymasters.
Unions plan a second, four-day stoppage from next Saturday, grounding flights before the busy Easter holiday period, in a dispute that centres on cost-cutting plans and staffing levels.
"They want me to work for less than half I'm earning now. I'd lose my home," said one striking cabin crew member with 20 years experience. "The media is portraying us as spoilt rotten, overpaid waitresses."
Addressing a lively rally of union members at a sports ground close to London's Heathrow Airport, Unite joint general secretary Tony Woodley accused BA management of an attempt to destroy union influence.
"This dispute is costing this company an arm and a leg. We can reach a negotiated settlement. Come back to the table," he urged BA, as union members around him banged drums and blew whistles, brandishing cardboard cut outs of BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh with demon red eyes.
BA said the impact of the strike had been limited and that it had operated 78 percent of its longhaul flights and half of its shorthaul flights in the first two days of the stoppage.
Spring of discontent?
"Over the weekend more than 75 per cent of our flights around the world departed punctually, with several hundred departing early," it said in a statement.
Share market reaction was muted, BA shares shedding just over one percent in a lower market. BA stock has held its ground in recent days, trading at highs not seen since late 2008.
The dispute arose because BA, which has 12,000 cabin crew, wants to save an annual 62.5 million pounds ($95 million) to help cope with a fall in demand, volatile fuel prices and increased competition from low-cost carriers.
The company has leased planes and crew from budget airline Ryanair to help keep passengers on the move.
The government will be hoping the dispute can be resolved before it calls an election expected to be held on May 6.
A spokesman for Brown, who on Friday demanded the strikes be called off, refused to comment on newspaper reports that the government had been in contact with senior representatives of Unite or BA over the weekend, but said Brown was keeping "very closely" in touch with the dispute.
It is one of a number of disputes that has prompted talk of a "spring of discontent" from the Conservatives, raising the spectre of the wave of widespread union unrest that helped to bring down a Labour government in 1979.
Britain's railway signal workers have also voted to strike over job cuts and changes to working practices, raising the threat of a first national rail stoppage in 16 years.
Thousands of civil servants plan a one-day stoppage on Wednesday, coinciding with the publication of the government's budget, in a dispute over redundancy payments.
Labour unrest in the airline industry, reeling from its worst year in decades in which consumers and companies reined in travel budgets amid the global economic crisis, has also hit Germany's Lufthansa, where pilots on Monday announced a plans to strike next month.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 22 Mart 2010, 23:11