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British Airways wins court order banning strike

A judge rules the union vote invalid, a relief to about 1 million travelers who would have been grounded in the busy holiday period. The union is protesting the airline's move to reduce cabin crew.

December 18, 2009|By Janet Stobart

Reporting from London — British Airways on Thursday won a High Court injunction blocking a threatened 12-day strike by cabin crews that could have grounded about 1 million travelers at the height of the Christmas season.

The decision ended a roller-coaster four days of disputes and negotiations over the planned work stoppage, which threatened to further undercut the beleaguered airline at one of the busiest travel times of the year.

The union called the strike in response to British Airways' decision to reduce cabin crew staffing on most flights to cut costs. Despite protracted discussions, Unite, the transport workers union, called the strike from Dec. 22 to Jan. 2.

Justice Laura Cox agreed with the airline that the strike ballot was invalid because many votes were cast by members who had already taken a buyout and would no longer be employees at the time of the strike.

Although union officials vowed to continue their fight, British Airways management was clearly relieved and optimistic about reviving the company's flagging fortunes.

"It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families in the UK and around the world," the company said in a statement. "There was never any need for a strike, and we hope that Unite will take this opportunity to reflect before deciding its next steps."

Union leaders threatened another strike vote. One probably could not be held until after Christmas, pushing any strike into the new year.

"While we have never wanted this dispute, it is a disgraceful day for democracy when a court can overrule such an overwhelming decision by employees taken in a secret ballot," the union's joint general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, said in a statement. And they warned British Airways that it "must accept that there can be no resolution except through negotiation, failing which there will inevitably be a further ballot for industrial action."

The timing and length of the proposed strike, which 92% of cabin crew members voted for, provoked criticism even from members of other unions, as well as furious travelers.

Toni Harrison of West London called a radio program in tears and said, "I just want to thank British Airways cabin crew for ruining my holiday, and thousands and thousands of other holidays." She had planned a family get-together in New York six months ago.

Christmas travelers still face other, if minor, problems. Friday saw the demise of Scottish airline FlyGlobespan, which went into receivership. All flights were canceled, stranding passengers in Spain, the Canary Islands and the Falklands, where British military staff were waiting to fly home.

Many were saved by other airlines providing emergency holiday flights. About 800 workers reportedly face immediate unemployment.

The Associated Press reported that other would-be travelers in Britain may be affected by threatened 48-hour strikes by baggage handlers at Heathrow and Aberdeen airports.

Stobart is a news assistant in The Times' London Bureau.

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