British Airways cabin crew could start strikes next week after Unite wins appeal

Unite union has won an appeal against a High Court ruling which found its planned strikes against British Airways (BA) were unlawful.

The decision by the Court of Appeal now means the union can legally rearrange the cabin crew strikes which were due to start on Tuesday, following a dispute about jobs, pay and working conditions.

It is thought the strikes will now start from next Monday (24 May) – which was the second of the four five-day strikes originally planned by the union.

Earlier in the week, the High Court ruled the strikes had to be postponed because the union had failed to provide its members with sufficient details of the breakdown of the ballot results.

Law at the centre of the BA/Unite ruling

Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, Section 231: Information as to result of ballot

As soon as is reasonably practicable after the holding of the ballot, the trade union shall take such steps as are reasonably necessary to ensure that all persons entitled to vote in the ballot are informed of the number of:

(a) votes cast in the ballot

(b) individuals answering ‘Yes’ to the question, or as the case may be, to each question

(c) individuals answering ‘No’ to the question, or, as the case may be, to each question, and

(d) spoiled voting papers.

The court found Unite had failed to provide cabin crew staff with a detailed breakdown of the result of the ballot, which was conducted in February, as required by section 231 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992.

But two of the three judges at the Court of Appeal have now allowed Unite’s appeal.

Lord Judge, the lord chief justice, said although BA had proved at the High Court that more could have been done by Unite to communicate the information required under trade union legislation to its members, they had “failed to persuade me that what was done was insufficient to amount to compliance with the requirements”.

Derek Simpson, joint Unite leader, said: “Our reaction is that it is a sensible decision that reflects the minor, almost irrelevant, case that BA tried to bring, and we are grateful that it puts sense into what is an industrial dispute, and strikes at the heart of the argument that minor technicalities can set aside ballots like this one which was overwhelmingly in support and democratically conducted by our members.”

BA is now said to be considering whether to appeal the decision by the Court of Appeal at the Supreme Court.

A spokesman for the airline said: “We are very disappointed for our customers that Unite’s appeal has been upheld and that the union intends to go ahead with its unjustified and pointless strikes.

“We will implement our contingency plan to keep British Airways flying. We are confident that thousands of cabin crew will ignore Unite’s strike call and help us fly more than 70% of the customers who were booked to fly with us in the period targeted.

“Unite’s strikes have failed twice and they will fail again.”

Stephen Simpson, employment law editor at XpertHR, said: “While Unite has successfully challenged BA’s injunction against its strike, it’s done so by the skin of its teeth in the Court of Appeal (by a two-to-one majority) and after a tortuous appeal process in the courts.
“We await the full judgment (including the thoughts of the judge who dissented) with interest, but it doesn’t change the basic lessons for unions – that the balloting requirements are incredibly detailed and onerous and unions need to comply with the letter of the law, or risk employers scrutinising their ballots for the smallest errors.”

BA previously secured an injunction against a 10-day cabin crew strike due to take place over the Christmas period after the union balloted staff who no longer worked for the airline.

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