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BA wins court battle to stop Christmas strikes

London – British Airways won a High Court battle on Thursday to prevent its cabin crew staging a 12-day walkout over the busy Christmas and New Year holidays.

Judge Laura Cox granted an injunction to BA, which had argued that trade union Unite’s ballot of staff was invalid because it contained irregularities and included workers that had already accepted voluntary redundancy.

BA cabin crew voted overwhelmingly on Monday to strike over job cuts, conditions and pay between 22 December  and 2 January in a mass walkout of around 12,500 staff.

Judge Cox announced to a packed courtroom that she would set out her decisions for ruling in favour of BA but warned that the judgement would be lengthy.

The industrial action, billed by British media as "The Twelve Days of Christmas Strikes," had threatened the holiday plans of up to one million people.

Loss-making British Airways, which is slashing costs in an attempt to return to profitability, reacted with delight to its high-profile victory.

"We are delighted for our customers that the threat of a Christmas strike has been lifted by the court," BA said in a statement.

"It is a decision that will be welcomed by hundreds of thousands of families in the UK and around the world.

"There was never any need for a strike and we hope that Unite will take this opportunity to reflect before deciding its next steps. We believe the public would want that too."

Unite, Britain’s biggest union, was protesting at BA’s imposed contractual changes that include fewer cabin crew on flights, a pay freeze and different working conditions for new members of staff.

The union expressed deep disappointment to the ruling and warned that there would "inevitably" be another ballot for more action — if the company did not resolve the row through negotiation.

"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," said Unite joint general secretaries, Derek Simpson and Tony Woodley, in a statement.

Aviation analysts estimated that the strike could have cost BA between GBP 10 and 30 million (EUR 11-33 million) per day.

"We will of course be studying the judgment 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," Simpson and Woodley said.

"BA must accept that there can be no resolution except through negotiation, failing which there will inevitably be a further ballot for industrial action."

Earlier Thursday, BA executives and union bosses had held unsuccessful last-ditch talks in a separate bid to stop the strike.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown had urged both sides on Wednesday to resolve the dispute, saying he was "very worried" about the strike.

The strike threat came at a critical point for BA, which is cutting costs and attempting to merge with Spanish carrier Iberia as part of a bid to remain competitive against its rivals.

BA revealed last month that net losses quadrupled to GBP 217 million in the group’s first half, or six months to September.

The airline has announced it will cut an extra 1,200 jobs — taking the total planned reduction to 4,900 by 2010.

"In recent days, we believe Unite has formed a better understanding of our position and of the ways in which we could move forward," BA said in the statement issued after the court ruling.

"It has also become very clear that our customers do not believe that old-style trade union militancy is relevant to our efforts to move British Airways back toward profitability."

AFP / Expatica