The Unite union has taken British Airways (BA) to the High Court in an attempt to secure an injunction against the airline’s cuts to the number of crew on flights.
In November, BA imposed the changes which cut the number of cabin crew by the equivalent of 1,700 full-time jobs in a bid to save £140m a year in cabin crew costs. But Unite has claimed it was not consulted properly about the cuts, and hopes to bring a halt to the money-saving initiative through a permanent injunction.
Unite initially took BA to court on 5 November to seek an interim injunction to prevent the airline from introducing the changes, but the application was refused. The judge did however order a trial to investigate the alleged breach of contract by BA in imposing the reductions, which is now being heard in the High Court.
BA has said it is entitled to reduce cabin crew numbers on board its flights as these are not terms of individual cabin crew members’ contracts.
But Unite said BA was in breach of contract by imposing the changes because the existing crew levels were fixed by collective agreements with the unions and were “expressly incorporated” into individual contracts.
The five-day long court action will investigate 10 test cases representative of about 5,400 claimants who were among the 13,400 cabin crew employed by BA.
John Hendy, acting on behalf of Unite, told the High Court judge: “The question before you is whether BA was contractually entitled to reduce crewing levels unilaterally or whether they needed agreement before doing so.
“BA’s case is that collective agreements are incorporated into the contracts of employment, but the principal defence is that the term which specifies the number of crew is somehow inapt for incorporation.
“We say on behalf of the cabin crew that the number of workers allocated to a job is no more inapt for incorporation than hours of work or rates of pay.”
A BA spokeswoman said: “A High Court hearing, initiated by Unite, begins today to examine the issue of whether onboard crew levels form part of the individual contracts of cabin crew. We have always said we believe they do not.”
Philip Henson, head of employment law at City law firm Bargate Murray, added Unite was using its latest High Court challenge to restore its reputation following BA’s successful injunction against its strike ballot in December.
He said: “The public declaration by the High Court in December last year that Unite breached statutory balloting requirements would no doubt have bruised the ego of the union; and many are viewing this trial as a means of fighting to restore its credibility, which may have been diminished with its members.”
Unite is currently 12,000 cabin crew for strike action, with the result of this ballot due on 22 February.