British Airways has been accused of “industrial thuggery” by the leader of the Unite union.
General secretary Len McCluskey said the airline was wrong to believe it could “walk all over” its staff.
British Airways’ owner IAG announced in April that it would cut up to 12,000 jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Unite claims the company is planning to rehire remaining employees on downgraded terms and conditions if an agreement cannot be reached.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr McCluskey said: “Our flag carrier, who employs 42,000 workers, they want to sack 12,000 and the other 30,000 they want to fire and rehire on considerably worse terms and conditions.
“It’s nothing short of industrial thuggery.”
IAG chief executive Willie Walsh recently described Unite as being “blind and deaf” in relation to the financial impact of the pandemic.
This is “completely untrue”, Mr McCluskey insisted. He claimed “we want to sit down and discuss how we can assist them getting through this crisis”.
British Airways pilots last week voted to accept a package including job and pay cuts aimed at avoiding a larger number of redundancies.
Pilots’ union Balpa said there will be around 270 compulsory redundancies and temporary pay cuts starting at 20% and reducing to 8% over two years – before falling to zero over the longer term.
Mr McCluskey said Unite – which represents thousands of British Airways staff including cabin crew and engineers – would accept the same deal if it was available.
“British Airways are not offering the same deal, he said. “It is thuggery of the worst industrial kind.
“This is an individual, Willie Walsh, and his management team, who believe that because most of our members are furloughed they are in a vulnerable position, and he believed he could walk all over them.
“Well, he obviously doesn’t know his workforce, because it’s unfair. No other company – not only in the aviation sector – no other company in the rest of the UK has adopted this type of tactic here, this scorched earth approach.”
A British Airways spokeswoman said: “We are acting now to protect as many jobs as possible. The airline industry is facing the deepest structural change in its history, as well as facing a severely weakened global economy.
“We call on Unite and GMB to work with us as our pilots’ union Balpa is doing. Working together we can protect more jobs as we prepare for a new future.”
The airline does not expect demand for air travel to return to pre-pandemic levels until at least 2023.
IAG announced on Friday that it made a pre-tax loss of 4.2 billion euro (£3.8 billion) in the first six months of the year.