British Airways strike enters 3rd and busiest day

LONDON (AP) - British Airways and the union representing its cabin crew were no closer to resolving a dispute over pay and conditions on Monday as a strike at the carrier entered its third - and busiest - day.

Operations at the airline were expected to be under more strain Monday as there are far more flights packed in to normal scheduling than over the weekend.

The Unite union and BA have both claimed victory over the walkout that has caused the airline to cancel over half its 1,950 flights normally scheduled over the period.

BA reported that nearly 98 percent of staff reported for work at Gatwick and more than half showed up at Heathrow, allowing it to reinstate a number of canceled flights.

However, Unite said that only 300 of its 2,200 cabin crew scheduled to work over the weekend turned up, and accused the airline of counting inbound crew to inflate the numbers of staff on duty.

BA has warned knock-on effects from this walkout will carry on throughout this week and workers are due to strike again from Saturday for four days if the dispute is not resolved.

The acrimonious dispute with its workers is expected to be financially crippling for BA - analysts forecast it could cost the airline more than the 63 million pounds ($95 million) that Chief Executive Willie Walsh is trying to save through the changes to workers' pay and conditions.

The walkout is also bad news for Prime Minister Gordon Brown's Labour Party, which relies heavily on funding from the country's labor unions, and a gift for the main opposition Conservative Party, which is leading opinion polls ahead of a general election due within weeks.

The Conservatives are seeking to evoke memories of the difficulties the Labour government had in the 1970s, culminating in the mass strikes that became known as Britain's "winter of discontent" and led to the election of Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher in 1979.

Business group London First, whose members include many of London's internationally-based businesses, warned on Monday that the capital's reputation as a centre for global trade was being damaged by the strike.

"Despite the best efforts of BA management and many staff to continue to put the interests of passengers first, the strike is reminiscent of a best-forgotten era," said London First Chief Executive Jo Valentine.

Unite joint leader Tony Woodley is due to address workers at a rally near Heathrow later Monday.

The airline on Friday offered a compromise on a proposed pay freeze this year, offering a 3 percent rise next year and the year after and then an inflation-linked increase in 2013/14 capped at 4 percent. The other changes include a switch to part-time work for 3,000 staff and a reduction in cabin crew sizes from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from Heathrow.

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