The British High Court yesterday ordered an injunction against a strike by British Airways staff, probably averting a potential Christmas transport morass and allowing many UAE-resident travellers to breathe a little more easily. The court ruled that a significant number of ballots cast by the airline's Unite union had been filled in by crew members who no longer worked for BA, invalidating the results. The work stoppage was scheduled to begin on Tuesday and last for 12 days.
The union's joint general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, did not rule out alternative industrial action, saying in a statement that "the spectre of further disruption to the company's operations cannot be removed". But they said negotiations with the company would continue. "While we have never wanted this dispute, it is a disgraceful day for democracy when a court can overrule such an overwhelming decision by employees taken in a secret ballot," the statement said. "We will of course be studying the judgement, but the fact remains that this dispute is not settled. Passing the buck to the courts to do management's job for them was never going to be the answer."
Some analysts suggested that the stoppage might still occur as a "sick-in". But British Airways' official position was more optimistic. "In recent days, we believe Unite has formed a better understanding of our position and of the ways in which we could move forward," the airline said in its statement. "We are delighted for our customers that the threat of a Christmas strike has been lifted by the court," it added. "It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families in the UK and around the world."
Still, some travellers worried that there were no guarantees against a future strike. If there were a further vote that eliminated illegal ballots, flyers might face stoppages around New Year's Day, noted Tamara al Sahyouni, who booked a flight from London to New York with her family. "We are very happy to hear that but we're still not sure if there will be any further complications," she said. Judy Phelan, an Abu Dhabi-based British expatriate, and her Irish husband, Patrick, who works in the oil industry, were due to fly back from London Heathrow on December 31 after leaving on Sunday. Mrs Phelan said she was "very relieved" to hear the industrial action had been ruled illegal. "We had decided to go to the UK and see what happened and deal with it if there had been a problem. It wouldn't have affected my work as I am a freelance, but it would have affected by husband's work," she said.
Experts had suggested that as many as 7,000 flights might have been cancelled by the strike, although some aircraft would have remained in service. The action would have cost about £30 million (Dh178m) a day, and about one million passengers were expected to be affected. BA had offered passengers booked to fly from December 20 to January 4 the option of switching to any other BA flight in the next 12 months at no charge. It is unclear what options will be offered if a new strike is called.
firstname.lastname@example.org * With agencies * With additional reporting by Daniel Bardsley