Protesters disrupt British Airways strike talks
Updated on 22 May 2010
Talks to avert the planned strikes at British Airways broke up abruptly on Saturday evening after protesters burst inside the building where they were taking place. Benjamin Cohen reports.
BA boss Willie Walsh was entirely surrounded by shouting demonstrators from the Socialist Workers Party. He had to be helped out by Unite leader Tony Woodley, before being escorted from the building by police.
Mr Woodley vented his frustration and rounded on the protesters.
Reporting for Channel 4 News, Benjamin Cohen told Krishnan Guru-Murthy that out of nowhere, some 200 protesters from the Socialist Workers Party had appeared at the building where the talks were taking place.
He said that the protesters stood outside the building, in central London, called for BA chief Willie Walsh, and then decided to go inside the building and up to the 22nd floor "where they came face to face" with those involved in the talks.
At around 6pm BA bosses and the Unite representatives left the building. They said nothing but they plan to reconvene tomorrow – at a secret location, with no media and, hopefully, no protesters.
24-28 May: BA will operate as normal from Gatwick and London City. Heathrow will operate at 60 per cent longhaul capacity and 50 per cent shorthaul. BA plans to serve 70 per cent of passengers overall.
Unite has also planned strikes for 30 May-3 June and 5-9 June. BA advises all customers to check its website on a regular basis.
Benjamin Cohen said it is thought this afternoon's talks had reached a crucial stage – "which is probably why Tony Woodley was probably so frustrated when the protesters suddenly arrived".
The real sticking point is now thought to be the loss of travel perks by those who took part in previous strikes last month, as well as the sacking of BA staff accused of being the ringleaders in the present dispute.
If the talks this weekend do not resolve the dispute, there will be a strike on Monday, but British Airways say they are confident that 70 per cent of passengers will not notice any difference.