BA cabin crew lose court fight over fewer staff on flights

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British Airways cabin crews have lost a High Court fight against cuts to the number of staff serving on the flagcarrier's flights.

The case was raised when BA instituted a new regime in November, reducing staff numbers by one on all flights and two on some international routes. The judgment from Judge Sir Christopher Holland comes days before the conclusion of a strike ballot protesting against planned job cuts, changes to contracts and a two-year pay freeze.

BA says the reduced staffing levels are needed to cut costs in the face of the brutal downturn in the aviation sector and forecasts of a second year of annual losses. The trade union Unite says that crewing levels were fixed by agreement with the union, and were therefore "expressly incorporated" into individual contracts. But the judge ruled against the claim.

"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," a BA spokesman said. "Unite's arguments as to why the changes should be reversed have been considered in great detail by the court – and rejected."

BA's industrial relations difficulties are far from over. The strike ballot that closes on Monday is the second of its type, the first having been passed by a massive nine-to-one majority just before Christmas, only to be overturned by a legal challenge from BA management claiming that the voting included members of staff who subsequently took voluntary redundancy.

Following yesterday's conclusion in the High Court, Len McCluskey, the assistant general secretary of Unite, said: "Today's regrettable judgment makes absolutely no difference to the substance of our dispute with British Airways. We remain in negotiations with the company and hope that management will address the real concerns of cabin crew. Should they fail to do so industrial action remains a possibility."

Had the first strike action gone ahead as planned, BA faced the public relations disaster of a 12-day stoppage over Christmas. Since then, the two sides have continued talks under the auspices of the Trades Union Congress, but to no tangible effect. If the ballot favours action, a new strike could take place from 1 March, though the union has ruled out action over Easter.