Sir Bill's flying visit as BA row waits

Sir Bill Morris is in the middle of one of the year’s biggest industrial disputes, but he honoured a commitment to be in Norwich yesterday. Sir Bill spoke to Keiron Pim at the TGWU’s new office in Norwich shortly before meeting BA bosses.

Employees and employers gathered at the Transport & General Workers' Union's new Norwich office yesterday to meet one of the most recognisable figures in the trade union movement.

Sir Bill Morris, who is to retire as union general secretary in October, is in the midst one of the highest-profile disputes for years.

The events that led to holidaymakers being stranded at Heathrow last week after a wildcat strike by airport staff have led to a crisis that all sides hoped to resolve in talks last night.

But yesterday Sir Bill found time for the official opening on the TGWU's office at Thorpe Road, speaking to an audience comprising local trade union officials and invited employers from businesses including Omni-Pak, TNT and Eversheds.

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TGWU spokesman Andrew Dodgson said: "I was with Sir Bill for most of the talks with Acas last week and when they were trying to arrange something for this morning, he said 'No, I've a long-standing commitment which I'm going to attend in Norwich. He was very determined to be here."

Sir Bill spoke to the EDP a few hours before he was due to meet British Airways chief executive Rod Edding-ton to try to break the deadlock.

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He regretted that holidaymakers' travel plans were ruined in the dispute over the imposition of swipe-cards for airport staff, and said the union would try to ensure that such a stoppage was never repeated.

"Any strike represents a failure

on the part of the partners involved. We regret that anybody is inconvenienced in this way." But he said employees' had been "placed in an impossible situation".

"We have been in negotiations for months and months. When they say they are going to impose a change in working process without regard for consequences, there's no option."

Sir Bill told the Norwich audience of union members and employers that the region had always been important to the TGWU and it would be campaigning on issues including the safety of children working in farms.

The smart new office was an example of the future of the TGWU.

"There's no reason for trade unions to have facilities that are less than the best. It's making a statement of our determination to continue to promote the values of trade unions," he said.

He told the EDP of his reservations about the way the affair had been handled by fellow union the GMB.

"We spent the whole night working, for 11 hours from 7pm to 6.15am, and we reached a framework document of some proposals. The GMB then sat down and said they wanted to go back to square one.

"I don't believe you can spend 11 hours in discussions and say that. But the past is the past and we want to find the solution.

"It's not the principle, as everyone has swipe cards nowadays, but the application. We want a copper-bottomed guarantee that any information is strictly limited in its use to signing on and off."

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