Courts find in favour of BA, again

Yesterday a High Court judge ruled the planned Unite strikes at British Airway (BA) - what would have been the longest strike at a major UK employer for a quarter of a century – illegal. This is reminiscent of the ruling over Christmas, where the courts also found in favour of BA.

Willie Walsh, Chief Executive of BA, concedes that the ruling “has done no more than provide a reprieve”. Unite will keep fighting and plans to apply to the Court of Appeal today to overturn the ruling. According to Tony Woodley, joint General Secretary of Unite, an agreement had been reached on all substantive issues in principal. However travel concessions and disciplinary actions for some cabin crew and union members have not been resolved.

Striking over these two issues has been branded by Willie Walsh “an absurdly disproportionate response to the changes we are making to cabin crew operations as we strive to return to profitability”. And you can see his point. BA stood to lose £140 million from the strike and are about to post a loss this year of £600 million – their largest since 1987.

The company is clearly in desperate need of changes if it is going to get itself out of the hole it’s in. Walsh is quick to point out that the changes in working practices for cabin crew to improve efficiency are fair. These include voluntary packages for those wanting to leave the company instead of compulsory redundancies; provision of more part-time work; and rises in basic pay in the coming two years when pay cuts have been hefty across the private sector. They have also addressed the issue of travel concessions and offered to reinstate staff travel for cabin crew who went on strike in March. Walsh states that under these proposals, “existing crew will remain easily the best rewarded in the UK industry.”

So if this is the case why strike? Well the plot thickens, with Walsh writing in The Times today that the dysfunctional union hierarchy between British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (Bassa) and Unite means an agreement cannot be delivered. This is because the increasingly militant Bassa do not agree with Unite that there is an agreement in principal. Walsh writes:

“To Bassa, we are still in the 1970s: British Airways is nationalised, facing little competition and ever ready to do a cosy deal with the unions knowing the taxpayer will pick up the tab.”

If Walsh is correct and there is not agreement within the union working for BA members, let alone between BA management and the unions themselves, expect more strike dates and unrest. 

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