UK - The GMB union has confirmed employees of the British Air Line Pilots' Association (BALPA) will begin industrial action on July 2 over changes to its final salary pension scheme.

It revealed of the 33 members working for the trade union for British pilots, 85% voted in favour of strike action, following BALPA's decision to close its final salary scheme to new entrants and to increase the retirement age from 60 to 65.

GMB claimed the decision to hold the ballot on strike action earlier this month was only made after "intensive negotiations" failed to persuade BALPA to "modify sufficiently" its position on the pension scheme.

Dave Kent, GMB organiser, said the initial strike action will last two days  - Wednesday July 2 2008 and Thursday July 3 2008 - although he confirmed this is the first in a series of actions in an attempt to get BALPA to return to the negotiating table.

Kent claimed the decision to alter the pension scheme is a "disgraceful case of hypocrisy" as BALPA had previously "fought long and hard to protect the final salary pensions of its pilot members in British Airways and other airlines" but is now seeking to close its own scheme and to impose "drastic changes to pension benefits for existing staff".

In addition, he claimed there is "no economic justification for these changes because BALPA is one of the most successful and financially robust trade unions in the UK".

Although the changes have yet to be implemented, the GMB believes BALPA is looking to introduce the changes without union agreement "fairly soon" although an exact date has not been given to the union.

Kent said the union wants BALPA to keep the DB scheme open to new members, although he admitted there was "room for negotiation" over the issue of the retirement age he said the employer "doesn't seem to want to play ball" despite a number of alternative suggestions from the GMB.

"No employer, let alone a trade union, should impose changes to terms and conditions of employment without the agreement of its own staff. BALPA would not tolerate such behaviour from an employer that it was dealing with and GMB will not tolerate this from BALPA," Kent added.

BALPA was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

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