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British Airways cabin crew strike called off

May 18, 2010 09:27 IST

British Airways has won a dramatic 11th hour injunction which halted a crippling strike planned by thousands of its cabin crew in a bitter row over jobs, pay and staffing levels.

Justice McCombe granted an order against Unite, the union, giving a reprieve for passengers who had faced weeks of travel chaos but drawing furious criticism from unions.

Unite immediately vowed to lodge an appeal against the decision, which leaders described as an "absolute disgrace".

New Transport Secretary Philip Hammond, who held separate talks with both sides, said the judgement was good news for passengers.

Unite members had been due to stage the first of four five-day walkouts from midnight, but the union was now urgently contacting its members to tell them to work normally.

BA chief executive Willie Waish and Unite leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson spent three hours at the conciliation service Acas and adjourned shortly after the court decision.

Acas said: "Discussions took place at Acas this afternoon and obviously events outside of the talks have progressed.

In these circumstances, the parties have adjourned to reflect on their respective positions."

Walsh said he hoped the injunction gave the union a chance to pause and consider again the "very fair" offer BA had made.

"There will be further talks but events have been overtaken by the court's decision," said Walsh, adding that the industrial action was "unjustified".

He said relations between the two sides were "strained", but he added: "I genuinely believe it is time to move on. We have an opportunity to pause and reflect and hopefully we will be able to make progress."

The high court ruled the Unite union's ballot of 12,000 cabin crew for strikes over the spring half-term holiday was illegal.

BA, which says the strikes would cost it pound 138 million, argued that Unite had not "properly complied" with the requirement to "send everyone eligible to vote details of the exact breakdown of the ballot result".

As a result, BA said the strike action was "unlawful".

The employees union and British Airways are in the middle of a bitter row over jobs, pay and staffing levels, and the strike was called by the union to press for their demands.

While expressing sympathy for the union, the judge said: "I am unable to say it is sufficiently clear that the union took the steps required by law at the time they were required."

The "balance of convenience" required the granting of an injunction.

Unite's joint leaders Tony Woodley and Derek Simpson said: "This judgement is an absolute disgrace and will rank as a landmark attack on free trade unionism and the right to take industrial action."

They said its implication is that it was now all but impossible to take legally-protected strike action against any employer who wishes to seek an injunction on even the most trivial grounds.

"Because of the far-reaching consequences of this injunction for all trade unions and indeed for our democracy, we are seeking leave to appeal immediately," he said.

"It need hardly be said that this brings the prospect of a settlement to the dispute with British Airways not one day closer," he added.

H S Rao in London
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