19-May-2010 9:50 AM

British Airways cancels 20,000 flights; Unite appeals decision

British Airways was forced to cancel more than 20,000 flights on 18-May-2010, including 40% of short-haul flights and 10% of long-haul flights from London Heathrow Airport, despite a court ruling blocking cabin crew from launching strike action on the day (Bloomberg, 18-May-2010). The carrier had expected to operate only 60% of long-haul services from the airport had the strike gone ahead. Services from London Heathrow are expected to be disrupted again on 19-May-2010. All flights from London Gatwick and London City airports operated as normal. The carrier stated schedules may not return to normal before the weekend. CEO, Willie Walsh, stated the carrier should also now be able to clear the backlog of passengers disrupted by volcanic ash disruptions now that the strike will not be staged this week (Dow Jones, 18-May-2010).

BA union Unite has appealed against the court decision to stop the strike (Reuters/BBC News, 18-May-2010). The court stated it will not issue a decision on Unite's appeal before 08:30, 20-May-2010. Should the court rule in favour of the union, Unite will be able to launch the three remaining five-day blocks of strike action it had planned (telegraph.co.uk, 18-May-2010). TUC General Secretary, Brendan Barber, criticised (17-May-2010) the court's ruling to stop strike action on 18-May-2010, stating the decision was made on a "tiny technicality" and goes against "fundamental freedoms". [more]

Mr Walsh remains open to negotiations and expects talks to continue in coming days. The carrier is still hoping for an “early and peaceful end” to the issue. Mr Walsh stated the carrier’s inability to reach an agreement with Unite was due to a small group of British Airlines Stewards and Stewardesses Association (BASSA) members and urged union leaders to “assert their authority” to overcome the issue (Mail Online, 18-May-2010).

British Airways: “To Bassa, we are still in the 1970s: British Airways is nationalised, facing little competition and ever ready to do a cosy deal with the unions knowing the taxpayer will pick up the tab. Nearly everything harmful about that culture has now disappeared at BA - apart from the legacy of a hard core of union activists who think they have a right to control day-to-day cabin crew operations ... The Bassa tail is wagging the Unite dog,” Willie Walsh, CEO. Source: Mail Online, 18-May-2010.

TUC: "This is a desperately worrying judgment. A strike that clearly has majority support has been turned over on a tiny technicality. This - and other recent decisions - begin to make it look as if there is no effective right to strike in today's Britain. Just as you do not have to agree with what people say to defend their freedom of speech, the right to take peaceful industrial action goes far wider than any particular dispute and is a hallmark of a free society. All fair-minded people should see that fundamental freedoms are now being eroded," Brendan Barber, General Secretary. Source: TUC, 17-May-2010.

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