High Court rejects British Airways bid to block pilot strikes over pay dispute

British Airways has failed in a High Court bid to temporarily block pilots from taking strike action in a dispute over pay.

The British Airline Pilots’ Association (Balpa) announced on Monday that its members backed industrial action over a pay dispute by more than nine to one, on a turnout of 90%.

BA took legal action in an attempt to halt the strikes, which it claims are designed to cause “the maximum in disruption” and could cost the airline up to £40 million a day.

On Tuesday, BA applied for an interim injunction to prevent strike action by pilots based at Heathrow and Gatwick, arguing that Balpa’s ballots did not comply with trade union law.

Following a hearing in London, Mrs Justice Elisabeth Laing dismissed BA’s application for a temporary injunction, ruling that Balpa was “more likely than not” to establish at a full trial that its strike ballots were properly issued.

British Airways pilots strike
British Airways pilots strike

The judge gave permission for BA to appeal against her ruling, which could be heard by the Court of Appeal as early as this Friday or at the start of the following week.

Balpa agreed to give an undertaking to the court that they would not issue a notice of industrial action pending the outcome of any appeal.

In a statement after the ruling, a BA spokesman said: “We are very disappointed with today’s decision. We will continue to pursue every avenue to protect the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer.

“Our proposed pay offer of 11.5% over three years is fair, and by contrast to Balpa, the Unite and GMB trade unions – which represent nearly 90% of all British Airways colleagues, have already recommended the same pay offer to their members.

“We remain open to working with Balpa to reach agreement, which we have been doing since December, and we urge Balpa to return to talks as soon as possible.

“Further information and updates are available at ba.com.”

In a statement, Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said: “While we’re pleased with the judge’s decision, we’re frustrated that time has been wasted.

“BA could have spent this time coming back to the negotiating table instead of trying – and failing – to tie us up in legal knots.

“This delay will now continue with BA seeking to appeal against the High Court’s decision.

“As a result it’s now likely the talks scheduled with Acas on Friday will have to be postponed.

“We ask that BA thinks hard about why 93% of our members feel so strongly about taking strike action.

“The company itself has admitted that even one day of strike action would cost more than what our pilots are asking for, so the ball really is in their court here, to look after their pilots and ensure the hardworking public get to continue their holidays as planned.

“Although legally clear to do so, we have still not set any strike dates to give BA one last chance to commit to negotiating on pilots pay and rewards with us at Acas later this week.”

BA’s barrister John Cavanagh QC earlier told the court that Balpa had not provided a list of the categories of employees who had been balloted, and did not indicate when the strike action would take place. He said it was “likely to commence on or about August 7”.

Mr Cavanagh said: “There can be no doubt that the timing of the action is deliberate and designed to cause the maximum in financial loss and disruption for BA, and the maximum in disruption and hardship for BA’s passengers (and those they are going to visit), plus business partners and other employees.

“The action is due to commence in peak holiday period, in the middle of school summer holidays, and at the busiest time of BA’s year.”

He said there was “no doubt that if the industrial action takes place there will be very grave disruption indeed”.

Mr Cavanagh added: “It is impossible accurately to assess BA’s financial loss if the industrial action were to go ahead, save that it will be very substantial indeed, running to £30-40 million per day.”

Balpa’s barrister Simon Cheetham QC argued that trade unions have “a degree of discretion as to how it categorises workers”, and that Balpa “was only required to set out general job categories”.

He said the level of detail BA argued Balpa was required to provide amounted to “a disproportionate interference with the right to strike”.

Mr Cheetham added that Balpa had not yet decided when strike action would take place, and that the union “wishes to have the power to call industrial action at any time during the period between August 7 and January 21 (2020), the maximum period during which the ballot is valid”.