Pilots fly to High Court to fight BA’s strike ban

From The News Line a touching story of how BA are arguing that EU law gives them the “freedom” to stop workers taking strike action:

BALPA (the British Airline Pilots Association) is going to the High Court in London on Monday to fight a British Airways (BA’s) strike ban.

BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan has warned that the BA court injunction has ‘massive ramifications for every union’.

In February, pilots voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action against BA’s union-busting plans for its new subsidiary ‘OpenSkies’.

BA wants to pay its OpenSkies pilots a fraction of the wages of existing BA pilots.

BA plans to start daily OpenSkies flights to New York direct from Paris and Brussels from next month, with further routes to follow.

In a ballot with a 90% turnout in February, BALPA’s 3,000 members voted 86% in favour of strike action against BA’s wage cutting plans.

But at the beginning of March, BA took out a legal injunction against BALPA, claiming strike action would breach the Treaty of Rome which allows companies in the EU freedom to establish business anywhere.

‘Pilot unions and other unions around the world realise that if BA was to be successful in the courts that would have massive ramifications for every union,’ BALPA General Secretary Jim McAuslan said.

‘We have asked the High Court to pronounce on BA’s attempt to use this law in an industrial dispute.’

Balpa says the terms and conditions at OpenSkies will drive down those for pilots flying BA’s main fleet.

McAuslan said: ‘We have seen it happening around the world. BA pilots are determined not to let the same thing happen to them and to their families. That is why Balpa has drawn a line in the sand.’

In the High Court case, expected to last a week, the judges will decide whether Article 43 of the Treaty of Rome, part of the law that established the common agricultural policy, has bearing on an industrial dispute.

Following BA’s legal attack in March, BALPA went to the High Court, where judges agreed to ‘stop the clock’ on the 28-day limit on strike action after a ballot, pending next week’s hearing.

Meanwhile, the formerly nationalised airline announced a massive profits hike yesterday, and a bumper dividend for shareholders.

Annual profits were up by 45% to £883 million yesterday.

Chief Executive William Walsh went on BBC Radio to announce that he would be foregoing a £700,000 bonus.

‘I thought it would be inappropriate that I be paid a bonus,’ he said, denying his decision had been affected by any likely hostile reaction, claiming: ‘I didn’t do it for press reasons.’

Walsh went on to warn: ‘The era of very low fares is behind us. Fuel prices remain at record levels and there are no signs of these reducing.’

BA has recently been pushing up its fuel surcharges, with passengers on return flights of more than nine hours now having to pay an extra £158 and those on shorter long haul services paying £126.

Unite National Secretary for Civil Aviation Steve Turner described BA’s announcement as ‘excellent news’ yesterday.

He congratulated Walsh on his decision to forego his bonus and called for profits to be used ‘to address the ongoing concerns of our members’.

‘BA has to work with us,’ he urged, ‘to ensure that today’s success has a lasting benefit for all in the company’.

Unite currently represents over 80,000 aviation workers in Britain and is the biggest union in BA.

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