British Airways (BA) legal attempts to halt its pilots’ industrial action have now been defeated twice in court. The UK’s flagship carrier recently lost appeal against the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), whose members have voted strongly in favor of an industrial action. The airline had taken the union to court in an attempt to block pilots’ planned strike threatening the busy summer period.
Following failed negotiations with BA, the airline’s pilots voted overwhelmingly in favor (93%) of an industrial action in a strike ballot on July 22, 2019. To halt potential walk-outs, BA turned to the High Court seeking an injunction for the proposed strike, but the case was dismissed.
Commenting on the court victory, BALPA’s General Secretary, Brian Strutton said the union was “pleased” with the judge’s decision, however, also expressed frustration on time “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,” he stated.
A week later, on July 30, 2019, BA appealed in the Court of Appeal, arguing the strike ballot had not been carried out correctly, but was also defeated. “The Court of Appeal has today rightly dismissed BA’s attempt to injunct this industrial action on a technicality,” said Strutton.
“BA’s attempt to defeat the democratic view of their pilots in court, rather than deal with us across the negotiating table, has sadly wasted huge amounts of time and money that could have been put into finding a peaceful resolution. Now the window for negotiation and compromise is closing fast,” he added.
BA’s pilots have rejected a pay rise of 11.5% over three years, which the airline believes is “fair and generous”, according to the BBC. BALPA argues that pilots deserve an “improved offer”, given that the company has been posting “massive profits”. Aside from better pay, they are also proposing a profit share scheme as well as a rewards program. BA currently employs 3,900 flight crew.
The cost of the pilot strike
During court hearings, British Airways argued a strike would be “enormously disruptive” and could cost the company as much as $49 million per day, according to Bloomberg estimates. BALPA believes, on the other hand, that according to BA’s own figures submitted to the court, a single day of strike action “will cost far more” than it would take to settle the dispute. “The company itself has admitted that even one day of strike action would cost more than what our pilots are asking for,” commented Strutton.
Despite BALPA’s win over BA’s latest legal challenge, the pilots union has not yet announced strike dates, calling for further and, most likely, final talks with the national carrier. “BALPA wants to resolve this matter through negotiation and so we are not announcing strike dates,” Strutton stated. “Instead, we have called on BA to hold further talks today [July 31, 2019] and for the rest of this week for one last try to resolve this dispute by negotiation”.
The union is required by law to provide BA with two weeks’ notice of any proposed industrial action, which makes August 5, 2019, the earliest starting date (since the July 22 vote) for the strike. In the latest update on August 2, the carrier said it will “continue to exhaust every possible means” to avoid the strike action, and asks, in the meantime, customers to review their contact details on its bookings website or contact their travel agent.
While British Airways expressed “disappointment” that BALPA had “chosen to threaten the holidays of thousands” of its customers, as stated in an official press release on July 22, 2019, the union lays the blame on the airline: “We do not wish to inconvenience our customers which is why we have tried to resolve this matter through negotiation starting last November – it is BA who has regrettably chosen to drag this out into the summer months”.
The walk-outs, set to occur in the peak of summer travel, would mean groundings and flight cancellations, leading to major disruptions and threatening earnings. Part of the International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG), British Airways is already facing a massive proposed fine for the 2018 data breach incident on its website and app.