By Marcus Leach

Pilots at Virgin Atlantic are set to be balloted for what would be their first ever strike after drawn out pay talks broke down.

Despite marathon talks that started in 2010, and despite the involvement of the Government's conciliation service ACAS, pilots in Virgin have been unable to reach agreement with the airline on an overdue pay and conditions settlement.

"Pilots in Virgin have not had a pay increase since 2008," said Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of the British Airline Pilots' Association (BALPA) which has over 85 per cent of Virgin's 750 pilots in membership.

"During the tough years pilots have made sacrifices to help the business on the basis that fair pay would return. But that hasn't proved to be the case. The company is offering pilots an increase this year of 4 per cent, with 3 per cent next year and 3 per cent in 2012.

"The 4 per cent does not reflect the fact that pilots have not had a rise since 2008, and the proposed 3 per cent increases would mean that with inflation running at 5 per cent and likely to remain high, pilots would, if they accepted these increases, be in effect voting themselves years of wage cuts.

"We do not want a dispute but to date there has been no meaningful movement by the company and even the involvement of ACAS has not broken the logjam.

"With no-where left to go we have been left with no alternative (Monday) but to give Virgin management notice of a ballot of Virgin pilots for industrial action."

The secret ballot will go out on May 24. The ballot will last four weeks.

"Virgin's pilots feel very angry and disappointed at the way they are being treated after their sacrifices in 2008, 2009 and last year. The company is asking us to effectively sign up to 5 years of cuts in pay. We are not prepared to do that. We do not want a strike and have tried every way to avoid it. We regret this, but are resolute in our aim of fairness ," Jim McAuslan added.