Page last updated at 20:20 GMT, Friday, 18 December 2009

British Airways union Unite to call new strike vote

Passengers at Heathrow
BA estimated the 12-day strike would have affected one million passengers

British Airways (BA) cabin crew will be balloted again on industrial action after a planned Christmas strike was declared illegal by the High Court.

Their union, Unite, said it would "move swiftly" towards a fresh ballot, but it did not rule out an appeal against Thursday's legal ruling.

BA said it was "open to holding more talks" with Unite but could not "pre-empt any decision on re-balloting".

The 12-day strike was called in protest over changes to working practices.

But the judge agreed with BA that Unite had not correctly balloted its members, forcing it to cancel the action.

The ballot included people who had left the company or were about to, and so was judged invalid.

Lost bookings

The planned strike from next Tuesday to 2 January would have affected a million passengers, BA estimated.

Analysts at Deutsche Bank said that the financial cost of the strike could have been as much as £310m, but that the airline could still suffer, strike or no strike.

"The ongoing threat of a strike could further damage bookings in the new year," said the bank's Geoff Van Klaveren.

"However, we think that the duration of the strike might be scaled back from 12 days which, by the union's own admission, was excessive."

Second ballot

Unite said it would be focusing on a second ballot rather than pursuing a legal appeal.

"Unite, while not ruling out a future appeal, is expected to move swiftly towards a fresh ballot, believing it to be the surest way to ensure members' voices are heard, so we will be concentrating on this and not a protracted legal process," the union said in a statement.

When BA first questioned the legitimacy of the ballot, Unite said the majority voting for strike action was so overwhelming that the votes from those who had left the airline made no difference to the outcome.

"We are 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 said in a statement.

"We had hoped that the union would have used this time to pause and reflect. We have always said that a strike is unnecessary."

Pay freeze

At the centre of the dispute is BA's decision to reduce cabin crew numbers on many long-haul Heathrow flights.

Unite says that this change amounts to contractual changes for remaining crew, made without consulting the union.

It has also accused BA of introducing a pay freeze, along with plans to recruit new staff on lower pay.

BA disputes this, arguing that crew contracts remain the same, and points out that staff at Gatwick have been operating with the reduced crew numbers for years, with Unite's agreement.

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