BA Wins Court Ruling To Halt Christmas Strike

December 17, 2009

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British Airways won a court ruling on Thursday to prevent a 12-day cabin crew strike that threatened to strand hundreds of thousands of passengers over Christmas.

BA cabin crew had said they would walk out from December 22, escalating a dispute over job losses and changes to working practices. About 13,000 BA staff were balloted by the Unite union, 92.5 percent of whom backed the strike.

However, the High Court in London upheld BA's complaint that Unite had breached industrial relations law by balloting around 1,000 staff who had left the company or were in the process of leaving.

BA welcomed the ruling, but the Unite union called it a "disgraceful day for democracy."

Judge Laura Cox said the timing of the strike would have been particularly painful for passengers and company alike. "A strike of this kind over the 12 days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year."

Her ruling is a relief for passengers who were facing disappointment over ruined Christmas and New Year holidays.

"We are delighted for our customers that the threat of a Christmas strike has been lifted by the court," BA said in a statement. "It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families in the UK and around the world."

The judge refused Unite permission to appeal, although the union can apply directly to the Court of Appeal. However, pushing through any challenge before Christmas will be difficult since the courts break on Tuesday for the holiday.

UNION FURY

BA said it believed the union now had a better understanding of its position but warned "old style union militancy" would not help to move it back to profitability.

Analysts estimated the strike would have cost the airline around GBP30 million pounds (USD$48.5 million) a day, with around 1 million passengers affected and 7,000 flights grounded.

"The court's decision is a good result for BA and passengers. But equally, a problem deferred is not a problem solved. The union retains the option of re-balloting and I think it's likely it will do so," said analyst Douglas McNeill at Astaire Securities.

BA shares closed 2.4 percent lower.

The Unite union said it expected to hold another ballot.

"It is a disgraceful day for democracy when a court can overrule such an overwhelming decision by employees taken in a secret ballot," Unite joint general secretaries Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley said in a statement.

"Given the clear mood of cabin crew about management's imposition of changes on their working lives, this means that the spectre of further disruption to the company's operations cannot be removed," they added.

BA wants three quarters of its crew to accept pay rises of 2 to 7 percent this year and a pay freeze in 2010, and for 3,000 staff to switch to part-time working, along with a reduction in onboard crewing levels from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from London's Heathrow airport.

The average pay for BA cabin crew is GBP29,900 (USD$46,800), compared with an average of GBP20,200 at easyJet and GBP14,400 at Virgin Atlantic, according to the UK's Civil Aviation Authority.

In a separate dispute, Unite said on Wednesday baggage handlers and check-in staff at Heathrow and Aberdeen airport in Scotland would begin a 48-hour strike on December 22 unless there was progress on resolving a row over pay.

Thousands of passengers were facing disruption after Scottish airline Flyglobespan went into administration on Wednesday, leaving passengers stranded.

(Reuters)