(Employment Solicitor)”A High Court judge will decide this afternoon whether a very public 12-day strike by British Airways (BA) cabin crew can proceed, or whether to grant an emergency injunction thereby halting the walkout.
In one corner is Unite, insisting that its members have been forced to strike as a result of changes made to their rosters in breach of contract. In the other corner is BA, standing firm and stating that it will not rescind the changes which involve one crew member being removed from all flights and two from some long-haul flights.
So how have we now arrived at the High Court? Well, BA is arguing that Units recent strike ballot is actually invalid, meaning that Unite is in “clear breach” of the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations Act.
Legal advisers for BA maintain that whilst the strike ballot was passed with the overwhelming support of members, it contained serious and substantial irregularities. The irregularities being that approximately 800 people who participated and voted, were due to take voluntary redundancy before the possible start of any strike.
The Legal outlook
Put simply, BA’s case rests on whether Unite took enough care in ruling ex-employees out of the ballot. Legal advisers for the union say that although they knew that some of those who balloted would be leaving, they could not feasibly identify them and exclude them from the ballot result. The outcome will depend on how many people Unite have balloted who have left, and how long ago they left. If Unite has been balloting people who left the company a relatively long time ago i.e. over six months ago, the union really ought to have excluded them from the ballot. Unite will most probably escape blame if it is found that the people who balloted, only left employment within the last month.
BA is likely to get an injunction if it proves that Unite balloted workers who the union was aware would no longer be employed by BA at the time of the strike action. If the High Court ruling today finds against Unite, any re-ballot will have to be held in the new year, and the union will lose the impact of holding action over the Christmas period.
BA has commented that it hopes the legal action will “protect customers from the massive stress and disruption” threatened by the 12-day stoppage. Aside from the stress caused to customers, the strike from December 22 to January 2 would ground a considerable amount of BA’s fleet, and cost the already loss-making airline hundreds of millions of pounds.
Is there anything positive to take from the current state of affairs? Yes for other airlines. Virgin Atlantic has said that passengers were already rebooking their flights – and that they are providing bigger planes where possible in order to accommodate more passengers. 3000 seats have been sold in the past 12 hours according to a spokesman for Virgin Atlantic!
Furthermore, Andrew Fitchie, an airline analyst has estimated that Easyjet could be in line for extra revenues of £40m to £60m as a result of the dispute! Ryanair, Flybe, Lufthansa and Air France will also benefit he said.