Court halts wave of British Airways strikes

British Airways on Monday blocked a series of four five-day strikes by cabin crew after the High Court in London granted an injunction just hours before they were due to start.

The airline, facing mounting chaos because of the industrial dispute coupled with the volcanic ash cloud, succeeded in its legal action after successfully claiming that the cabin crew union's strike ballot failed to follow rules.

Members of the Unite union had been due to walk out from Tuesday to May 22, with further strikes planned on May 24-28, May 30-June 3 and June 5-9.

The airline argued that Unite had not "properly complied" with the requirement to "send everyone eligible to vote details of the exact breakdown of the ballot result" and therefore the strike action was "unlawful".

The judge Richard McCombe expressed sympathy for the union and its members, but said: "I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required."

Unite, which is locked in an increasingly bitter battle with BA over staffing and pay, strongly criticised the ruling and vowed to appeal.

"This judgment is an absolute disgrace and will rank as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action," said the union's leaders, Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson.

BA said: "We are delighted for our customers that Unite's plans for extreme and unjustified strike action cannot go ahead."

The airline said it had already been forced to rearrange much of its schedule to accommodate the planned strike, but promised to restore a full flying programme at its London Heathrow base by the weekend.

British Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who held separate talks with both sides earlier Monday, said the judgment was good news for passengers.

"I want (both sides) to use this breathing space to resolve this dispute, both to avoid disruption to passengers and to safeguard the future of the airline," he said.

BA chief executive Willie Walsh spent three hours in talks Monday with the Unite leaders and adjourned shortly after the court decision.

"There will be further talks but events have been overtaken by the court's decision," said Walsh.

It is the second time in the long-running dispute that BA has succeeded in halting a cabin crew strike through legal action.

The airline won a High Court battle in December to stop a 12-day walkout over the busy Christmas and New Year holidays, when a judge granted an injunction.

BA also argued on this occasion that Unite's ballot of staff was invalid.

The airline's cabin crew staged walkouts in March, which were marked by sharp disagreements between the union and BA over the impact of the industrial action.

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