Tuesday, May 18, 2010

British Airways strike off, for now

British Airways has won a High Court injunction to stop the latest series of strikes by its cabin staff. The first of four five-day walkouts had been due to begin at midnight but a decision by Justice McCombe has stopped the strike. The decision was based on a technicality and whether the Unite trade union followed rules in contacting its members with strike result details.

BA said it was delighted the strike would not go ahead. "We are delighted for our customers that Unite's plans for extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead," a spokesman said. BA told the court that the planned four five-day strikes would have cost the airline £138 million. 

BA sought to block the strike claiming that a "tweet" sent out by Unite did not contain a full breakdown of the ballot result as it was obliged to do. The airline claimed that emails and texts sent to Unite members did not have the information required under the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act. But Unite's national officer Steve Turner insisted the union had acted lawfully in informing its members of the ballot. The union said it posted notices on crew locations at London airports, and used text messages and e-mails to get the strike ballot result across to members.

However Justice McCombe was not convinced. "I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required," he said. Unite say they will appeal the injunction in the courts and attempt to go ahead with other planned strikes. The ruling by the court may be a crippling blow to Unite. The union may face a significant compensation claim because the February ballot was followed by seven days of walkouts in March that cost BA at least £43 million.

Despite the industrial action being stopped, passengers may still face disruption. Gatwick should see a full schedule, but several hundred flights from other airports will still be cancelled. British Airways explained that the last-minute ruling came too late for planes to be reinstated. The airline's operations are expected to have returned to normal by the weekend.

In the long term passengers travelling with the airline still face an uncertain year ahead. With the dispute itself unsettled, the threat of a strike may have merely been shifted until later in the summer. Nonetheless the ruling made yesterday brought welcome relief to many passengers who had already faced fresh disruption brought about from volcanic ash that once again shut British airspace. Most airports were back to normal by late Monday as winds pushed the volcanic plume to the north-east [BBC/Sky/Telegraph].

tvnewswatch, Beijing, China

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