Virgin Atlantic pilots have said they will go on strike in the busy lead-up to Christmas, as well as further dates in January in a dispute over proposed changes to benefits.

The Professional Pilots Union (PPU) balloted the pilots it represents and claims 71.5 per cent of the 72 per cent of members who voted approved the strike. The walk-outs will take place from 22-25 December, 30 December-2 January and 4-7 January, inclusive.

The PPU warned that its members would take action when Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger allegedly sent a letter to pilots explaining changes to employment terms and conditions, including a cap on income protection, cancelling a dependants’ pension scheme and reducing corporate pension contributions.

Virgin Atlantic does not recognise the PPU as a union and therefore only deals with the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA) when negotiating the terms of its pilots’ employment.

In a statement, the airline claimed the PPU only represents about 30 per cent of its pilots and did not expect a great deal of disruption due to the strike. “A small number of our pilots have voted for industrial action. Our absolute priority is to ensure that all of our customers can continue their journeys as planned this Christmas, and we’re working hard to protect all of their trips.”

Former Virgin Atlantic and Red Arrows pilot Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the PPU, said the airline’s refusal to recognise the union was “disenfranchising our members” and that its planned benefits changes were “the last straw”.

“Despite the rhetoric that consultations are inclusive of all staff and unions, in practice this doesn’t happen. We hope that Virgin acknowledge the mandate our members have given us, and help avoid strike action by recognising the PPU and halt the benefits review that is so damaging to our members’ long-term security.

“Our door is – and has always been – open to Virgin to take the necessary steps to prevent any disruption for Christmas travellers. This is such an easy fix for the company; by including all unions in negotiations – not just one selected by the company – it can then live up to its claimed inclusiveness and we can get round the table together to negotiate a sustainable outcome for our members.

“The pilot workforce is a professional and committed group that sees striking as anathema, but clearly feel bullied into this action by a company that chooses to ignore them.”

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