BA strikes up in the air again as judges consider cabin crew appeal
Wednesday 19 May 2010
The High Court is to re-examine an injunction it granted blocking British Airways cabin crew from starting 20 days of strike action. The Unite union will learn tomorrow whether it will be given permission to appeal against the ban. The strike had been due to start yesterday, but was thwarted late on Monday after the court ruled that Unite had not followed the correct procedure because it failed to inform its members of 11 papers that had been spoiled in the ballot. The decision prompted an immediate response from Unite, which swiftly sought to challenge the decision at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
Yesterday the country's most senior judge, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, chaired a three-member panel to decide whether the judgment should be overturned. After more than three hours of counsel, the judges said it would deliver its verdict at 9.30am tomorrow. Should the decision falls in Unite's favour, an appeal hearing could follow almost immediately.
At the start of yesterday's proceedings, John Hendy QC, for Unite, told the court that if the appeal judges discharged the injunction, then industrial action would be "reinstated from an appropriate time thereafter". But a failure could see Unite take the battle to the Supreme Court. The union, which represents at least 90 per cent of cabin crew staff, would also have the option to hold another ballot for industrial action, which would be the third such attempt since November last year, when the first two ballots were declared invalid on technicalities.
David Reade QC, for BA, said it was the company's case there had been a "complete failure" by the union to discharge its obligations in relation to the communication to members of the relevant information about the ballot result.
Earlier Unite's joint general secretary Derek Simpson added that the union had done its utmost to tell its 12,000 members about the 11 ballot papers. "We posted it on the web, we put notices on our noticeboard and we distributed leaflets," he said.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, said he hoped an appeal hearing was granted, warning that a basic right to industrial action was at risk. "Yesterday's judgment... sets a worrying precedent that calls into question whether unions will have the right to organised lawful industrial action in the future," he said.
Despite the ruling in favour of BA on Monday, some passengers still faced disruption yesterday, with the airline unable to reinstate all flights. BA said that at Heathrow, 90 per cent of long-haul and 50 per cent of short-haul flights were operating normally, meaning they would fly 60,000 people, compared with a normal number for the time of year of 85,000.
Bob Crowe, general secretary of the RMT union, suggested the Unite ballot was more legitimate than the polling in the general election. He said: "The new Tory Transport Secretary has welcomed the BA judgment and yet thousands of people were denied votes... on 6 May without the politicians lifting a finger. The whole of the new House of Commons was elected in a way that would have declared every single one of them null and void if they were subjected to the same rules as the trade unions – the political hypocrisy is breathtaking."
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