The proposed strike by British Airways cabin crew has been deemed illegal by the High Court – forcing the Unite union to call off its controversial industrial action plans.
Unite has been told to cancel a planned 12-day strike starting on Tuesday (22 December) after it was found to have breached industrial law by balloting up to 1,000 staff who had accepted voluntary redundancy.
The decision means the union would have to ballot staff again, which could take a month, meaning that holidaymakers who booked flights with BA over the Christmas period are clear for take-off.
The High Court today ruled there had been “serious and substantial irregularities” in Unite’s strike ballot and industrial action planned for next week is now invalid.
The union’s proposals to go on strike for 12 days have been littered with problems after its own members claimed they only thought three days’ strike was necessary, and joint union leader Derek Simpson admitted the plans were “over the top”.
Nick Squire, employment partner at law firm Freshfields, told Personnel Today it was a “no-brainer” for BA to have pursued the injunction to halt the threatened strikes.
He said: “It was a no-brainer for BA, they had nothing to lose by having a go at getting the injunction. If an employer feels there is clearly a fault then it might be worth having a go because of the cost implications for the union and it’s very embarrassing for the trade union officials who have gone through the process and got it wrong.”
He said Unite could have avoided the legal action by refusing to ballot those being consulted for redundancy. The injunction, Squire added, could make unions more wary in the future about conducting strike ballots.
He added: “With the ballot invalidated it will be something that the unions will need to think about very carefully whenever they ballot for industrial action in the future.”
Unions could seek to avoid future injunctions, as seen in this case, by writing to employers to provide lists of staff they intend to ballot for strike action, ensuring this information is correct, Squire said.
Stephen Simpson, employment editor for XpertHR, said the case identified how important it was that employers did not just accept strike ballots but checked the detail to ensure the ballot was legal.
He said: “Employers that are faced with a strike should check carefully that everything is above board with the ballot. An over-zealous union might ballot members who are not eligible to vote or fail to ballot a group of eligible members whom it knows might vote against striking. But the employer has to show that the union’s failure is sufficiently serious to have potentially affected the result. Minor, accidental failures won’t be enough to invalidate a ballot.”
British Airways sought an injunction against the ballot earlier this week, after union members voted 9:1 in favour of strike action.
More than 80% of the 12,500 cabin crew members turned out to vote, but as many as 1,000 of these were being consulted for voluntary redundancy.
Unite labelled the decision a “disgraceful day for democracy”.