British Airways’ second strike injunction could damage Unite’s reputation

The Unite union could see its reputation and influence diminish in the wake of the second High Court injunction preventing British Airways (BA) cabin crew from striking, experts have predicted.

Yesterday, the High Court ruled that Unite’s planned 20 days of strikes against BA were unlawful, after the union failed to provide sufficient details of the ballot results to its members.

The airline secured an earlier injunction in December after proving Unite had balloted workers no longer employed by BA.

David Bradley, head of employment law at DLA Piper, said Unite’s reputation “has taken a dent” in employers’ eyes.

“Employers will be much more careful to challenge and scrutinise any ballot and notification of industrial action made by Unite now, and also by other unions,” he told Personnel Today. “It clearly doesn’t attach a great air of authority and professionalism to the top of the union when you get technical things wrong when it comes to balloting and notification.”

Tom Flanagan, employment partner at Pinsent Masons, added the ongoing dispute with BA had led to an “almost universal condemnation” of the union, and this could make employees “slow to support Unite”.

Law at the centre of 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.

He said: “The biggest loss will be to reputation; they may have difficulty launching effective industrial action in other sectors if employees feel they will be tainted by the reputation that Unite has gained in this strike.”

But Flanagan added that, as the largest union in the UK, Unite was so diverse that people in other sectors might not feel the dispute bears any relation to their situation.

John Read, employment editor at XpertHR, suggested that members required to pay an annual membership fee of more than £130 could now question how the union had repeatedly failed to conduct legally-binding ballots, with all the resources at their disposal.

He said: “Unite’s reputation has surely been damaged by its repeated failures, but I suspect that the BA cabin crew will continue to direct their anger against BA, rather than their union.”

Unite has applied for leave to appeal against the High Court’s ruling, and a verdict on whether they are allowed to appeal could be given today. If granted the right, an appeal could be heard as soon as this evening or tomorrow. But Flanagan said he would be surprised if the union succeeds because there are limited grounds for appeal.

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