- The Washington Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

LONDON | Britain’s High Court delivered an early Christmas present to about 1 million travelers on Thursday by granting British Airways an emergency injunction to stop a strike by its cabin crews.

The airline celebrated its success in the latest round of an increasingly acrimonious dispute with workers over pay cuts and reduced staffing levels. The Unite labor union deemed it a “disgraceful day for democracy.”

The strike organized by Unite, which had been due to begin on Tuesday, would likely have grounded the majority of the airline’s planes at a time when the loss-making airline normally operates 650 flights and carries 90,000 passengers each day.

Even some of the cabin crew staff who voted in favor of the walkout announced Monday were having second thoughts about its severity amid a growing backlash from a British public.

In the end, Unite was forced to call off the walkout on a technicality.

The High Court backed the airline’s claim that the ballot of about 13,000 workers was illegal because it included about 800 members who had taken voluntary redundancy packages and had already left or were in the process of leaving the airline.

Justice Laura Cox said the balance lay “firmly” with granting the injunction and refused Unite permission to appeal her decision in the High Court.

“A strike of this kind over the twelve days of Christmas is fundamentally more damaging to BA and the wider public than a strike taking place at almost any other time of the year,” Justice Cox said.

Unite warned immediately that it would hold a fresh ballot if the dispute is not resolved through talks with airline management, pointing out that an 80 percent turnout for the rejected ballot resulted in a 92.5 percent “yes” vote.

“Given the clear mood of cabin crew about management’s imposition of changes on their working lives, this means that the spectre of further disruption to the company’s operations cannot be removed,” Unite’s joint general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, said in a statement. “Passing the buck to the courts to do management’s job for them was never going to be the answer.”

The dispute is likely to drag on for some time. The union cannot hold another vote until after Christmas, with a rescheduled strike unlikely before February at the earliest. The High Court is also due to rule on Feb. 1 on a pre-existing court action by the union on the cost-cutting measures imposed by the airline.

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