British Airways union to hold new strike ballot

AP News
Posted: Dec 18, 2009 12:57 PM

The union for British Airways cabin crew said Friday it would swiftly hold another strike vote after a court blocked a planned walkout over the Christmas and New Year's holiday travel period.

A quick ballot by the Unite union could pave the way for a rescheduled walkout in January, ramping up a dispute over pay cuts and reduced staffing levels that has grown increasingly acrimonious.

The strike, which was due to begin on Tuesday, had threatened to disrupt the travel plans of around one million festive season travelers.

Unite said it was not ruling out an appeal of the High Court's decision on Thursday to grant BA an emergency injunction against the 12-day strike.

However, it added that it "expected to move swiftly towards a fresh ballot, believing it to be the surest way to make ensure members' voices are heard is to reballot, so we will be concentrating on this and not a protracted legal process."

The High Court granted BA the injunction halting the walkout on the grounds that Unite's ballot was illegal because it included around 800 members who no longer worked at the airline.

The union argued that BA had won the day on a technicality only, pointing out that ballot disallowed by the High Court showed a 9-1 majority in favour of a walkout, with a turnout of around 80 percent of some 13,000 cabin crew staff.

Under British labor laws, the Unite union has to give formal notice of another ballot and then seven days notice of a strike if members vote "yes," allowing for a potential walkout in January.

BA said Friday that it was "extremely disappointed but not surprised that Unite has rushed to announce their intention to re-ballot barely 24 hours after the High Court's decision."

BA argues the disputed changes to staffing and pay _ including a pay freeze in 2010, a switch to part-time work for 3,000 staff and a reduction in cabin crew sizes from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from Heathrow airport _ are necessary to ride out its dire financial situation.

The union alleges the changes to pay and conditions are in breach of contract, but last month agreed to fly with reduced staffing after failing to win its own court injunction banning their imposition until a High Court decision on the dispute Feb. 1.

"We had hoped that the union would have used this time to pause and reflect," the airline said in a statement. "The aviation industry is facing the worst financial crisis in its history."

High Court Justice Laura Cox denied Unite permission to appeal the judgement in the High Court, although the union can apply to do so in the higher Court of Appeal.

The High Court is also due to rule on a preexisting court action by the union on the cost-cutting measures imposed by BA on Feb. 1.