British Airways is asking its staff to work for nothing or take unpaid leave in July, spokeswomen Kirsten Millard said on Tuesday. The airline offered workers to take between one week and one month of unpaid leave or unpaid work.

British Airways employs more than 40,000 people in the United Kingdom. Last month the company posted a record annual loss of £400 million ($656 million).

The company said it needs the concession from workers as it tries to weather the tough economy.

I am looking for every single part of the company to take part in some way in this cash-effective way of helping the company's survival plan, said Willie Walsh, British Airways' chief executive.

It's all well and good for Willie Walsh to say he's prepared to work for free when he earns four times in a month what they do in a year, said Ciaran Naidoo, a spokesman for Unite, one of Britain's biggest unions.

But he pointed out that the airline was not ordering staff to work without pay.

It's a request -- you can take unpaid leave or you can work for free, and the chances of people working for free are very unlikely, but there might be some people who want to take unpaid leave, he said.

The airline's total traffic fell 3.4% while the airline carried 33.1 million passengers last year; it was a drop of 4.3% from the previous year.

The company said roughly 1,000 workers have agreed to the measure since it was initially launched in May. However, some employees are rejecting the company's request.