BA gets temporary respite as court blocks strike

The BA cabin crew strike is blocked - but it doesn't solve the airline's problem in the short or long term.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

On the face of it, there was some good news for BA yesterday: the High COurt surprisingly agreed to apply an injunction blocking the planned walk-out by cabin crew. The judge made his ruling based on a pretty obscure legal technicality about the way Unite communicated the result of the strike ballot to its members (which, not surprisingly, the union is furious about). The bad news is that it's too late to prevent disruption today - BA already had its contingency plans in place, so it'll only be operating at about half-capacity. And it doesn't bring the airline any closer to a long-term solution...

The strike, which was due to start today, had been overwhelmingly backed by union members in a ballot. But for the second time, the court decided that Unite didn't comply fully with the complicated rules on disclosing the results - specifically, it hadn't said how many ballot papers were spoiled. Now however idiotically self-destructive you think the unions are being with this action, it's hard to contest their claim that it's an 'affront to democracy' when a strike with such a clear mandate is blocked on this kind of arcane technicality. BA's lawyer suggests that the complexity of the rules is the price unions pay for their striking privileges; and MT readers might think it's right for the cards to be stacked against strikers. But the fairness of the current set-up is open to question.

But although BA is off the hook (for now - unless Unite wins its appeal), it's still going to lose out. The basic row hasn't been resolved, so the strike will presumably go ahead eventually - it'll just require another ballot, and another disclosure process. This will drag things out even further, which means that people will think even harder about booking BA flights at any point this summer. So the £140m it expected to lose to these strikes is still at risk (probably more in fact, given that the ruling came too late for it to revert to a normal timetable today).

About the best we can hope is that the court-imposed delay creates an opportunity for both sides to hammer out a deal. But in truth, that still looks unlikely; if anything, this kind of thing just hardens attitudes. Walsh may even see it as a chance to boost his contingency workforce still further - he's already boasting that he can staff 70% of his planes during strike action, as he looks to limit the union's influence. BA may have won this battle, but the war could still go either way.

In today's bulletin:

Inflation soars - and Mandelson pledges for the chop?,
BA gets temporary respite as court blocks strike
Vodafone rings in the profits as emerging markets flourish
Paying the cost to be your own boss
Graduates get the right of reply

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