British Airways is heading for a vicious showdown with unions after relations appeared to spiral out of control over the airline's plan for drastic job cuts.
In a flurry of incendiary briefings last night, the two parties seemed further apart than ever over proposals to lay off up to 12,000 of its 43,000 staff – more than one in four.
A series of bitter accusations over the breakdown are understood to have taken place behind the scenes, with both sides now locked in a Mexican standoff.
Row: In a flurry of incendiary briefings, BA bosses and unions seemed further apart than ever over proposals to lay off up to 12,000 of its 43,000 staff
BA bosses accused the Unite and GMB unions of having 'refused to represent their members' as the company takes emergency action to safeguard its future.
In a letter to MPs, seen by The Mail on Sunday, Willie Walsh, boss of BA's parent company IAG, attacked the 'deeply regrettable' decision by the unions to reject formal redundancy consultations – a process which includes union officials helping staff in discussions with management.
But Len McCluskey, the boss of Unite, which represents 26,000 BA staff, hit back, saying his 'door was open' to discussions about how to reshape BA for the future if the airline 'withdrew its threat of mass dismissals'.
The row has left the company and unions running out of time to find a resolution before the first dismissals are due on June 15.
The increasingly heated war of words is likely to spark fears of strike action among airline staff.
Last night Unite insisted it 'is not balloting for industrial action and would reaffirm that our call to BA is to remove the threat of dismissals on June 15, extend the present furlough arrangements and get around the negotiating table with Unite officials'.
But if tensions worsen and strikes force BA to ground planes again after travel bans are lifted this summer, it would deliver a hammer blow to the airline's recovery hopes.
BA boss Willie Walsh revealed that BA has been burning through £20m a day to stay afloat during lockdown
In his letter to MPs, Walsh revealed that BA has been burning through £20million a day to stay afloat during lockdown and has already racked up an extra £800million in debt in the worst crisis in its history.
Unions fear BA is trying to overhaul employment terms under the cover of sweeping redundancy plans. Of the three unions for BA's pilots and cabin crew, only Balpa, which represents its 4,300 pilots, is engaging in redundancy discussions.
GMB and Unite claim the airline is seeking effectively to 'fire and rehire' all staff on vastly reduced terms and conditions.
Unite branded BA's actions 'immoral' because it used the Government's job retention scheme to furlough around 23,000 staff before announcing the cuts in April.
Walsh said BA's plans are lawful and proportionate and that the furlough rules specifically allow companies to lay off staff.
Unite has criticised BA for triggering a formal redundancy consultation – by issuing a so-called Section 188 document – instead of continuing with voluntary discussions with unions.
However, Unite sued Monarch Airlines' engineering arm last year for failing to issue the Section 188 document in a timely fashion when it went bust.
Unite insisted the Monarch case 'bears no comparison to the current situation' because Monarch fell into administration 'without any consultation with the union whatsoever'.
BA maintains its job cut proposals are vital to help it survive as a 'smaller company' in a future in which it believes air travel will shrink dramatically.
Management are understood to be dismayed at the backlash the firm felt in Parliament last week, having sent letters to all MPs in May explaining BA's dire financial predicament.
Walsh warned that plans to operate 40 per cent of BA's scheduled flights from July had been 'torpedoed' by the Government's introduction of a 14-day quarantine –
Walsh sent a second letter to MPs after the Commons criticisms, which he described as 'vastly exaggerated'.
In the letter on Thursday, he said: 'We find ourselves in the deepest crisis ever faced. We will do everything in our power to ensure that British Airways can survive and sustain the maximum number of jobs consistent with the new reality of a changed airline industry in a severely weakened global economy.'
Dismissing allegations BA is 'firing and rehiring' its entire workforce, he said: 'These are vastly exaggerated and also mischaracterised as decisions that have already been made, rather than proposals over which consultation must take place.'
He warned that plans to operate 40 per cent of BA's scheduled flights from July had been 'torpedoed' by the Government's introduction of a 14-day quarantine – beginning tomorrow – for those arriving in the UK.
Walsh is so furious he is considering launching a legal challenge against the 'irrational' move.
Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: 'BA have taken this action when our members are furloughed and we are prevented from having meaningful consultation or access to our members. This is morally wrong and unlawful.'