By Michael Holden LONDON, March 21 (Reuters) - Union leaders called on Sunday for talks with British Airways bosses to end strike action by cabin crew staff that has led to the cancellation of hundreds of flights and disrupted travel plans for thousands of passengers. The three-day action, which began on Saturday, has also proved a source of embarrassment for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown as it involves the Unite union, the ruling Labour party's biggest single financial backer. Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, said in a letter to his members he hoped new talks with BA management could prevent a second four-day strike over pay and jobs planned for later this month. "Today, I will be appealing to British Airways at board level to take matters in hand and restart negotiations to reach an agreement which would allow the strike scheduled for next weekend to be averted and put your airline on the road to recovery," he said. "We have said all along that negotiations, not litigation, intimidation nor confrontation is the way forward." Unite and BA have disputed the impact of the strike, with the union saying it had received the support of 80 percent of its members while the airline's chief executive Willie Walsh said its plans were going better than expected. BA, which had announced it would run a reduced schedule but still planned to fly more than 60 percent of passengers, said because of the number of crew reporting for work, it had been able to add extra flights. It also said fears that unions in other countries which had voiced support for Unite would disrupt its services abroad had proved unfounded. BULLYING The dispute has grown increasingly bitter with Unite accusing BA's management of bullying and issuing misleading figures about the number of staff who had broken the strike. While Woodley said the row would end in a negotiated settlement, his letter warned: "BA must understand that capitulation is not on the menu either". The Observer newspaper reported on Sunday that government officials had been in touch with Woodley in a desperate attempt to find a solution to the strike which was damaging Brown with an election just weeks away. The opposition Conservatives, ahead in opinion polls, have been turning up the pressure on Labour over its links to Unite, saying the government had failed to take action quickly enough because it did not want to alienate its financial backers. "We deplore the strike, and the prime minister and the transport secretary have said that absolutely clearly," Foreign Secretary David Miliband told Sky News. "The way to resolve these disputes is through negotiation, it is damaging for the company, it is damaging for the crews and it is damaging for the country." The dispute arose because BA, which has 12,000 cabin crew, wants to save an annual 62.5 million pounds ($95 million) to help cope with a fall in demand, volatile fuel prices and increased competition from low-cost carriers. A spokesman said there was no estimate yet as to how much the industrial action would cost the company. (Editing by Janet Lawrence) Keywords: BA STRIKE/ (Reuters messaging: email@example.com; +44 207 542 3213) COPYRIGHT Copyright Thomson Reuters 2010. All rights reserved.
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