UK - The GMB trade union has branded British Airways claim of a deal with all trade interested unions on how to plug the carrier's £2.1bn (€3.2bn) pension fund deficit, as "misleading".

The response followed an assertion by CEO Willie Walsh in BA's third-quarter results published today that: "We are delighted that the BA Forum, which represents British Airways unions, recently issued a statement recommending acceptance of the changes in benefits to tackle the deficit in the New Airways Pension Scheme (NAPS). This is a major milestone and we can now move forward on our plans for fleet renewal and replacement."

However, a GMB spokesperson told IPE that a ballot is currently underway among the 4,500 members of the union, which represents BA check-in personnel and baggage handlers. The results are due to be announced next Friday.

The spokesperson added that strike action was "still on the table" and that any claims of agreement with all unions would be "misleading".

GMB shop stewards have urged members to reject the management's proposal on how to halve the pension fund deficit. BA is proposing a one-off £800m contribution to the pension fund while employees would have to accept changes to working conditions and the raising of the official retirement age.

BA had angered unions in early January when it hailed the recommendation by the Forum as agreement with the unions. The Forum represents the airline's four unions: GMB, Amicus, Balpa and T&G.

At that time a spokesman for Balpa, the pilots' union with 2,850 members, told IPE that BA was "a bit naughty" to claim it already had the four unions' agreement. The result of the Balpa ballot, where acceptance was recommended, will also be announced next Friday.

According to the third-quarter results BA saw its operating profit for the three months to end-2006 fall by £47m to £129m owing to higher fuel costs and additional expenses for new security requirements.

A last-minute agreement with cabin crew on Monday to avert a 48-hour strike is likely to cost the company £80m in lost revenues because around 1,000 flights had already been cancelled, BA said.