Last-ditch efforts to stop BA strike look ill-fated

If BA can't block its cabin crew strike in court, will the new transport secretary save the day? Unlikely...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Today will see some last-ditch efforts to stave off the cabin-crew walkout that threatens to ruin BA’s summer. Apparently airline boss Willie Walsh and Unite union chief Tony Woodley will sit down around a negotiating table again this afternoon, with new transport secretary Philip Hammond and mediation service Acas on hand to facilitate (/break up any brawls). At the same time, BA will be in the High Court trying to overthrow the strike on a legal technicality. Neither side is showing any willingness to back down – even though they both seem to have forgotten precisely what it is they were arguing about…

BA is naturally keen to stop Unite staging almost four weeks of continuous walkouts, due to begin tomorrow, which will cost the airline an estimated £138m. The airline’s lawyers are currently in court trying to block the strike on a technicality: they’re planning to argue that Unite failed to inform all its members correctly about the results of the strike ballot. Though since their case seems to rest on the union failing to tweet the info, it’s no wonder their lawyer doesn’t sound very confident.

Meanwhile the negotiations seem to have reached an impasse (again). The two sides have resolved their original argument, about pay and conditions – they’re now arguing about disciplinary measures imposed since the previous strike, including Walsh’s insistence that anyone who walks out loses their free travel privileges. Walsh is refusing to back down, arguing that BA will be able to operate at 70% capacity even if the strikes take place (although he also claims that he’s now offered to restore the perks, so who knows what’s going on there).

To be fair, the unions aren’t helping themselves. The ever-optimistic Woodley has said publicly he doesn’t expect to resolve the dispute (nothing like the power of positive thinking, eh, Tony?). Another union official, Nigel Stott, has been spotted on the picket line even though he says he’s too ill to work (much to the delight of the Daily Mail et al). And then there’s Duncan Holley, a Unite branch secretary sacked for gross misconduct after allegedly taking unauthorised time off work to conduct union business; he told the The Telegraph today: ‘We could call a one-day strike every three weeks or call a strike and then cancel it. Nobody is going to book a holiday with them if they think there is going to be a strike.’ How very responsible.

To add to BA’s myriad woes, that pesky Eyjafjallajökull is set to continue to wreak havoc this week, with more flights in Europe grounded. So even if the strikes take place, the effect could be watered down somewhat by Mother Nature. Which is all the more reason to stop them happening. Let’s hope Hammond and co can knock some sense into them.

In today's bulletin:

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Last-ditch efforts to stop BA strike look ill-fated
Take two for the Pru with rights issue
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