Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Union loses legal battle with British Airways

BA planes
A planned 12 day-strike over Christmas was called off

The union Unite has failed in a High Court action against British Airways to try to overturn changes brought in by the airline last year.

It claimed it was not consulted properly, and said the changes including freezing pay and cutting crew on long-haul flights, were imposed.

The union had been set to strike over the issues over Christmas, but a separate High Court action stopped it.

A new strike ballot is ongoing, and will close on 22 February.


BA, which has already threatened to take away generous travel perks for workers who do strike, said it was "extremely pleased" with the ruling.

By Richard Scott, BBC transport correspondent

The ruling from the High Court is a big blow to the union, Unite.

It's the second court case it has lost to BA in two months, after the High Court ruled its Christmas strike was illegal. Now it is waiting for the result of a new strike ballot which we'll get on Monday.

It'll be interesting to see whether negative media coverage, criticism from the public and the threat from BA of the removal of generous staff travel perks for strikers, will make a difference to the result.

"Unite's central demand over the last three months has been that we reverse these changes, despite the severe financial impact this would have on the company at a time when we are facing a second year of record annual losses," the company said.

"Unite brought this case to court. We believe it should reflect on the court's decision rather than impose an unnecessary strike on the travelling public."

Unite assistant general secretary Len McCluskey said that industrial action remained a "possibility".

"This regrettable judgment makes absolutely no difference to the substance of our dispute with BA," he said.

Service impact?

The plans for the changes were first presented to BA staff - and unanimously rejected - at a mass meeting in July.

The judge asked both sides to produce a timeline of the main events leading up to the court case, and included this chronology in his judgment. Unite was formed by a merger of the T&G, which includes BASSA and Amicus.
(All dates are 2009)

24 February: BA tells the union it must save £82m from cabin crew costs
26 February: BA lists 32 proposed cuts including crew numbers
February to April : BA meets BASSA 14 times and Amicus four times
May: BA raises required savings to £140m
June: Company and union hold talks during month in course of which "BASSA had a heated argument with Amicus and refused to co-operate further"
23 June: BA submits written plans to cut crew numbers
25 June: Unite submits rival plans to save £173m. BA auditors says measures will save £53m
29 June: BA writes to staff setting out planned cuts
September to October: Four days of ACAS meetings. BASSA and Amicus sit in separate rooms. Hence no meeting between union and BA
6 October: BA imposes reduction in crew numbers saying "after nine months of talks the time has come to move forward"
Source: High Court judgment

They were then introduced in November - when BA reduced the number of cabin crew on long haul flights from 15 to 14 and brought in a two-year pay freeze from 2010.

The union said this would hit passenger services, as well as the earnings and career prospects of cabin crew.

The airline has also proposed new contracts for fresh recruits and newly-promoted staff. These include a single on-board management grade, no seniority, promotion on merit, and pay set at the market rate plus 10%.

This would still see new recruits paid significantly less than current staff, however.

The union argues it should have been consulted, because the changes are contractual.

But BA disputed this, saying it was not obliged to consult as "the changes do not alter contractual terms and conditions for individual crew members".

The changes are all part of cost-cutting measures at the loss-making airline.

Earlier this month, British Airways announced it made a pre-tax loss of £50m ($79m) in the three months to December 2009.

This was down from the £122m it lost in the same period in 2008 and smaller than many analysts had expected.

However, BA's pre-tax loss in the nine months to December rose to £342m from £70m in the same period in 2008.

Mr Justice Sir Christopher Holland said he had made his judgement based in the light of the airline's financial position.

"If the crew [numbers] materially and fairly contribute to the preservation of BA and more importantly for present purposes job security and pay, how can I condemn the less-than-extreme changes as unreasonable?"

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