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Unite claims victory in BA court ruling

A STRIKE threatened by British Airways (BA) cabin crew is to go ahead after the Appeals Court yesterday overturned an earlier decision that ruled the strike unlawful.

After two days of hearings, the Court ruled in favour of Unite on the grounds that the union had fairly and openly balloted staff dismissing BA’s original claim that it did not use the appropriate method of notifying members of the ballot result.

BA said that it was disappointed by the result and “that the union intends to go ahead with its unjustified and pointless strikes”.

The highly-anticipated decision means that cabin crew are set to cause significant disruptions to BA passengers when they launch a 15-day walkout starting on Monday.

BA said it will be able to operate 60 per cent of its long haul and 50 per cent of its short haul flights out of Heathrow during the strike period.

BA and Unite remain locked in discussions in a bid to reach an agreement over the dispute, which now centres on staff travel perks as well as disciplinary action taken by BA.

Joint general secretaries Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson said yesterday: “British Airways management now has a chance over the next three days to address our outstanding concerns and seize the possibility for industrial peace.”

They added: “We hope it has the wisdom to do so. Failing that, cabin crew will once more be taking industrial action with our full support.”

Speculation mounted over whether or not BA will take yesterday’s judgment to the Supreme Court, the UK’s highest court, to rule in its favour.

“The question now is whether BA will take this dispute to the Supreme Court. They would have to prove to the Supreme Court that this [the strike] was a matter of public interest,” said head of employment Anthony Fincham at CMS Cameron McKenna.

BA is currently considering its position on the appeal.

MORE CLARITY NEEDS TO BE GIVEN TO UNION LEGISLATION, CITY LAWYERS
CITY lawyers were unsurprised by yesterday’s decision by the Court of Appeal to overturn an injunction granted to British Airways (BA) but stressed that more needed to be done to clarify union law.

The judgement handed down on Monday by Justice McCombe in the High Court, claimed Unite breached union legislation, that has caused a number of obstacles for unions to overcome when launching strike action.

“There is a fine line to draw when there is a technical breach and the courts have been trying to figure out where to draw that line,” said Herbert Smith employment lawyer Peter Frost. Lawyers suggested yesterday’s decision could open the floodgates for future disputes as the courts remain split over its approach to deciding on industrial action disputes as to whether to stick to the strict letter of the law, or whether if a vote has been conducted fairly overall that result should stand. Two out of three judges hearing the appeal yesterday ruled in favour of Unite.

Q&A: WHAT IS THE DISPUTE ABOUT?
Q. WHAT WAS THE ORIGINAL DISPUTE OVER?

A. The original argument between Unite and BA was over a cost savings plan to be implemented by the airline, which included a pay freeze for cabin crew, a reduction in the number of staffed crew on Heathrow long haul flights from 15 to 14 and changes to terms for newly recruited crew. BA said the measures would have saved £60m, while Unite argued that the changes were a breach to cabin crew contracts.

Q. WHAT IS THE CURRENT DISPUTE ABOUT?

A. Currently Unite and BA are arguing over crew travel perks and disciplinary action taken against some staff members. During the last strike action, BA withdrew travel perks, including a 90 per cent discount on tickets and priority when on standby flights. However, during negotiations BA agreed to reinstate the travel perks but on the same level as new joining crew. Unite would not agree to the proposals.

Q. WHAT DID THE HIGH COURT DECIDE ON MONDAY?

A. Lord Justice McCombe of the High Court granted BA an injunction and deemed the strike unlawful on the basis that Unite failed to properly notify all members of a ballot result. The decision was based on a technicality in trade union laws that requires the union to notify all members of a ballot result.

Q. WHAT DID THE APPEAL COURT DECIDE YESTERDAY?

A. The decision handed down by the Appeals Court said that Unite had held a fair and open ballot during the vote and thus overturning the original judgment.