BRITISH Airways (BA) last night won an eleventh-hour reprieve in its bid to stop cabin crew from walking out, after the High Court granted an injunction on grounds that the strike was unlawful.
The judgment ruled that Unite, the union representing cabin crew, did not communicate ballot results to members, meaning the strike – which would have started early this morning – was illegal.
BA welcomed the ruling and said that it was “delighted for customers that Unite’s plans for an extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead”.
A statement from the airline said: “We hope all sections of Unite, including the leaders of the cabin crew branch Bassa, will take this opportunity to pause and focus on achieving the early and peaceful end to this dispute which the travelling public and all our employees want.”
But Unite said it would appeal the judgement, which it described as an “absolute disgrace” and a “landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action”.
Joint general secretaries at Unite, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson, said: “Because of the far-reaching consequences of this injunction for all trade unions and indeed for our democracy, we are seeking leave to appeal immediately. It need hardly be said that this brings the prospect of a settlement to the dispute with British Airways not one day closer.”
The bitter dispute between BA and Unite looks set to rumble on, after both parties yesterday failed to reach an agreement at a meeting brokered by conciliation service Acas.
Transport secretary Philip Hammond, who has held meetings BA chief executive Willie Walsh and Unite yesterday, urged both parties to return to the negotiating table but applauded the decision by the High Court on behalf of passengers.
He said: “I want them to use this breathing space to resolve this dispute, both to avoid disruption to passengers and to safeguard the future of the airline.”
The injunction will provide some respite for BA, with the ash cloud that is behind the stop-start closure of British airspace continuing to cause headaches.
Heathrow, Gatwick and London City airports were all closed for several hours early yesterday morning, causing severe delays and extreme anger amongst commercial airlines, including BA. Walsh called the flight ban “a gross overreaction to a very minor risk”.
UK Airports are expected to remain open today.