British Airways cabin crew have lost a legal battle to overturn changes to pay and working conditions that sparked an acrimonious dispute between workers and management, culminating in a narrowly averted Christmas strike at the airline.
Britain's High Court said Friday it had declined to grant a permanent injunction that would have scrapped the cost-cutting changes. The cuts include include a pay freeze this year, a switch to part-time working for some staff and a reduction in cabin crew numbers from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights.
The Unite union, which represents some 13,000 BA cabin crew, had argued that the airline was in breach of its contracts with staff because it did not properly consult with them before imposing the changes the changes in November.
High Court Judge Christopher Holland rejected that argument, ruling against the union.
BA has long argued that the changes, first flagged to the union more than six months ago, were necessary to counter falling demand for air travel after the global financial crisis.
It also dismissed suggestions from the union that the changes would harm the health and well-being of both staff and passengers, saying the slight increase in work for the crew entailed no safety or security risk.
BA said Friday it was pleased the court had determined that the "modest changes ... were reasonable."
"Unite's central demand over the last three months has been that we reverse these changes, despite the severe financial impact this would have on the company at a time when we are facing a second year of record annual losses," the airline said in a statement.
Chief Executive Willie Walsh said earlier this month that the cost-cutting drive has put the carrier on the right course, but won't save it from posting record losses in the current year.
It made an operating loss of 86 million pounds ($135 million) for the first nine months, compared to a profit of 89 million pounds a year earlier.
The carrier has been one of the airlines hardest hit by the global recession because of its heavy running costs and reliance on increasingly unpopular premium fares.
Unite is currently holding a new strike ballot after its planned Christmas and New Year strike was stopped by a separate High Court action. The results are due on Monday, meaning that a strike could be called for as early as March 1,although Unite has pledged not to walk out over the busy Easter holiday period.
BA said the union should take a step back.
"Unite brought this case to court," it said. "We believe it should reflect on the court's decision rather than impose an unnecessary strike on the travelling public."
BA said it continued talks with Unite, mediated by the Trades Union Congress.
It has also begun training training pilots, baggage handlers and engineers in cabin crew duties in preparation for a walkout.
Some 92.5 percent of cabin crew staff voted "yes" in the rejected ballot, which had an 80 percent turnout. But some of those workers voiced second thoughts about its severity amid a growing backlash from the British public, raising doubts about the success of the second ballot.
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