British Airways Loses High Court Bid To Prevent Pilots’ Strike

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On Monday, the union representing approximately 90% of all British Airways pilots announced that its members had overwhelmingly voted for strike action following the breakdown of contract talks with the airline’s management.

Soon after the ballot results had been announced, British Airways, in a move that surprised absolutely no one, attempted to get the High Court to issue an injunction against any proposed industrial action.

the tail of an airplane

The basis for requesting the injunction was that BALPA (the union represnting 90% of BA’s pilots) hadn’t followed the required procedures during the ballot process but, after a short hearing, the presiding judge ruled that BALPA would “more likely than not” be able to establish that all necessary rules were followed should a full trial take place and then promptly threw out the application for an injunction.

BALPA’s General Secretary, Brian Strutton is quoted as saying:

While we’re pleased with the judge’s decision, we’re frustrated that time has been wasted. BA could have spent this time coming back to the negotiating table instead of trying – and failing – to tie us up in legal knots.

This delay will now continue with BA seeking to appeal against the Hight Court’s decision.

As a result it’s now likely the talks scheduled with ACAS on Friday will have to be postponed.

We ask that BA thinks hard about why 93% of our members feel so strongly about taking strike action.

The company itself has admitted that even one day of strike action would cost most than what our pilots are asking for, so the ball really is in their court here, to look after their pilots and ensure the hardworking public get to continue their holidays as planned.

“We have still not set any strike dates to give BA one last chance to commit to negotiating on pilots pay and rewards with us at ACAS later this week.

It’s likely that any appeal (to the courts) that British Airways launches will take place on Friday (26th) or Monday (29th) so, as Brian Strutton said, it’s likely to get in the way of a proposed meeting between the two sides which had been due to take place on Friday.

a plane at an airport

What Now?

So far, BALPA hasn’t announced any strike dates so if you have travel plans which involve British Airways in the next two weeks you should be reasonably safe.

I use the word “reasonably” as, although the Pilots can’t commence any industrial action for at least 2 weeks (the law requires BALPA to give British Airways a minumum of 2 weeks notice of any planned action), Heathrow workers will be going on strike on at least 6 seperate days starting on Friday 26 July.

This action isn’t likely to see may flights cancelled (there may even be no cancellations at all) but there will certainly be long lines and increased delays as one of the world’s busiest airports attempts to carry on with a reduced workforce (airlines like Cathay Pacific are already asking customers to arrive at Heathrow at least 4 hours before their scheduled departure time).

As far as the pilots go, BALPA says that it won’t announce strike dates until any appeal has been heard by the High Court…so that delays any potential strike until at least 9 August and possibly even 12 August.

Rightly or wrongly, British Airways doesn’t appear to wish to improve on the latest offer it has made to the pilots and the pilots have already made it very clear that they’re prepared to walk out so things aren’t looking good.

BA may be able to delay any strike action for a few weeks by launching various court appeals, but I can’t see a legal pathway open to the airline that would prevent industrial action taking place at some point down the road.

Bottom Line

The situation is quite simple – either the two parties come to a (surprising) agreement or we’re heading for some very unfortunate travel days in the weeks ahead.

There’s no getting around the fact that British Airways will not be able to operate if 90% of its pilots walk out, and that’s going to leave tens of thousands of people stranded around the world.

British Airways won’t be able to fly customers home and there won’t be enough seats on other airlines to get everyone home either, so delays (of the overnight variety) are inevitable.

Right now, I suspect that there are a lot of travelers out there with fingers crossed, hoping that this situation gets resolved sooner rather than later….but they probably shouldn’t hold their breath.