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Virgin Atlantic Pilots to Be Polled on Strike Over Pay Claim

May 16 (Bloomberg) -- Pilots at Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. are to vote on strike action in a poll starting next week after talks about a new pay deal broke down.

Virgin’s offer to lift wages 4 percent this year and by 3 percent next year and in 2013 is unacceptable as pilots haven’t had a raise since 2008 and U.K. inflation is forecast to breach 5 percent, the British Airline Pilots Association said today.

“During the tough years pilots have made sacrifices to help the business on the basis that fair pay would return, but that hasn’t proved to be the case,” Balpa General Secretary Jim McAuslan said by e-mail. “We do not want a strike and have tried every way to avoid it but are resolute in our aim of fairness.”

Ballot papers will be sent the 85 percent of Virgin’s 750 pilots who are Balpa members on May 24 and the vote will last four weeks. A walkout could start in late June or early July in the event of a “yes” vote, including a one-week notice period.

Crawley, England-based Virgin Atlantic said today that all of its flight schedules would continue to operate as normal.

“The company has made a fair, affordable and sustainable offer that is in line with the rest of the industry and we continue to be open to dialogue,” it said in a statement.

Acas Role

Talks with Virgin started last year and failed despite the intervention of the government-funded Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service, according to Balpa. U.K. inflation averaged 4 percent in the 12 months through March and will accelerate to above 5 percent in the near term, the Bank of England forecasts.

British Airways, Virgin’s biggest rival at London Heathrow airport, said last week it had reached a deal with the Unite union to end a two-year dispute over pay and conditions for cabin crew. BA had already reached an accord with its pilots in March giving them a 4 percent pay award in the first year.

Branson is considering options for Virgin Atlantic that include joining an alliance and selling a stake after BA and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines gained antitrust immunity allowing them to coordinate prices and schedules on trans-Atlantic flights, squeezing his company in its most lucrative market.

To contact the reporter on this story: Steven Rothwell in London at srothwell@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chad Thomas at cthomas16@bloomberg.net

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