British Airways strike: BA loses appeal to stop pilot walkout over summer

Exclusive: Pilots’ union can now call industrial action with two weeks’ notice – but will resume talks with BA at Acas this afternoon

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 31 July 2019 12:34
General Secretary of BALPA discusses BA strike after court victory

British Airways has lost its appeal against the British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa), whose members have voted strongly in favour of industrial action.

Passengers booked to travel with BA in the second half of August are now waiting to find if their flights could be hit by a strike.

A spokesperson for British Airways said: “We are disappointed that the pilots’ union, Balpa, has chosen to threaten the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer with unprecedented strike action.

“We are very sorry for the disruption Balpa’s strike action will cause our customers.”

Yet despite the combative tone of BA’s response, the pilots’ union’s boss has told The Independent that no strike will be called immediately. Instead, talks with British Airways will resume at 3pm at the offices of the conciliation service, Acas.

Nearly 4,000 pilots who work for British Airways and belong to Balpa voted to strike. All but around 500 of the airline’s 4,500 pilots belong to Balpa. Nine out of 10 union members voted, with 93 per cent in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.

After the union’s strong mandate for a stoppage, British Airways tried to get an injunction against a strike in the High Court, on the basis that the there were flaws in the balloting process.

Last week in the High Court, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing said the ballot and the publication of the result had been carried out legally.

British Airways then appealed, arguing that the judge had reached the wrong conclusion.

The legal dispute turned on definitions of the word “categories”, and whether Balpa should have broken down the vote into long- and short-haul fleets and the proportion of pilots at Gatwick and Heathrow voting to strike.

At the Appeal Court, the judges rejected the appeal, saying that an employer would almost always complain that they would like more detail on the breakdown of a strike ballot.

Balpa is now free to call a strike with two weeks’ notice. But Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, told The Independent: “We want to resolve this through negotiation, so instead we have asked BA to re-engage at Acas talks, hopefully with renewed vigour.

“We are meeting with Acas this afternoon and will carry on tomorrow and Friday and try to find a resolution.

“We will delay any decision about industrial action.”

While in theory the talks could quickly break down and a strike could be called to begin as early as 14 August, the union's wish to find a negotiated settlement indicates that no industrial action will be announced this week – taking the first possible date into the third week of August.

But Mr Strutton told The Independent: “It’s not as good as 11.5 per cent – British Airways are actually taking other money away from us.

“Ninety-three per cent of their pilots have said: ‘I want to go on strike’. So it can’t be that good a deal, can it?”

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