British Airways Seeks Further Court Action To Avoid Pilots Strike

 - July 23, 2019, 2:43 PM

British Airways vowed “to pursue every avenue to protect the holidays of thousands of our customers this summer” after the UK high court on Tuesday afternoon ruled that the British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) had correctly balloted its members on an industrial action, and therefore the vote outcome could stand. In the ballot, the result of which Balpa announced Monday evening, 93 percent supported a walkout on a 90 percent turnout. Balpa represents about 90 percent of BA’s 4,000 pilots.

“We are very disappointed with today’s decision,” BA said in a statement, confirming it will now take the case to the Court of Appeal.

Balpa general secretary Brian Strutton said the union was pleased with the judge's decision, though he complained about what he characterized as time squandered by BA’s appeal. “[We are] frustrated that time has been wasted,” he said. “BA could have spent this time coming back to the negotiating table instead of trying—and failing—to tie us up in legal knots.” Because of BA’s appeal, he added, a still further delay will result, therefore postponing talks scheduled for Friday with the UK’s conciliation service, ACAS.

“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,” Strutton emphasized. The union must give two weeks’ notice of any action. If the BA appeal gets defeated, the union may immediately give notice of planned walkouts that day.

The airline and its pilots have been at odds since late last year over the terms of a new three-year pay deal and enhanced profit-sharing, which they believe they deserve because BA is making “massive profits” as a result of the hard work of staff and sacrifices made during hard times. International Airlines Group (IAG) reported a €3.23 billion operating profit before exceptional items in 2018; BA accounted for €1.95 billion of that. “Thankfully BA is no longer in a fight for survival so, like the airline’s senior managers and directors, pilots deserve a small fraction of that profit via, for instance, a profit-share scheme,” according to Strutton.

BA called its proposed pay offer of 11.5 percent over three years “fair” and pointed out that, in contrast to Balpa, the Unite and GMB trade unions representing other labor groups have already recommended the same pay offer to their members. Balpa, Unite, and GMB submitted a joint pay increase claim to the company at the end of February, when IAG announced record profits.

“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,” the airline stated.

For its part, Balpa advised BA to consider the overwhelming margin of the pilot vote. “We ask that BA thinks hard about why 93 percent of our members feel so strongly about taking strike action,” it said in a statement. “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.”

A pilot strike, the airline claimed, would cost it £50 million a day. 

BA, however, is not the only company in the UK aviation industry to face social unrest. Some 4,000 Unite-represented staff at Heathrow Airport across different labor categories— firefighters and fire and rescue staff, security guards, engineers, passenger service operatives, and passenger service drivers—have threatened to strike in a dispute over pay. Strikes at UK’s busiest gateway will take place July 26 and 27, August 5 and 6, and August 23 and 24 unless a breakthrough in talks between Unite and Heathrow Airport at ACAS happens, the union said on Monday.

On Wednesday, Balpa will open a ballot for its Ryanair pilot members based in the UK for possible industrial action because, Strutton asserted, the union hasn’t managed to make any headway with the airline’s management on any areas of concern. “As usual with Ryanair, it’s their way or the highway, and we are not prepared to put up with that,” he said. Outstanding areas of concern for Balpa include pensions; loss of license insurance; maternity benefits; allowances; and a fair, transparent, and consistent pay structure. 

The wave of social unrest comes amid a new period of increased uncertainty and concern around the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. On Tuesday, Brexiteer and Eurosceptic Boris Johnson was named the UK’s next prime minister, taking over from Theresa May. Johnson has promised to deliver Brexit on or before October 31 and has not ruled out a hard-Brexit.

The European Commission today released a new and extensive notice about travel between the UK and the EU after Brexit. The 32-page paper details changes in border checks, passenger rights, customs, and airport transit visas among other items.