British Airways pilots have dropped their threat of strike action over the airline’s plans to launch a new subsidiary, OpenSkies. Their union, the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), yesterday withdrew its High Court action to determine whether the pilots were legally entitled to strike under European law. The union’s withdrawal came on the fourth day of the trial.
The new subsidiary was set up to capitalise on new flying rights under last year’s EU-US “open skies” deal. OpenSkies start flying on June 19, with a daily service from Paris Orly to JFK New York.
BALPA, whose pilots in British Airways voted overwhelmingly for strike action in February against BA because it plans to outsource BA pilot jobs, went to the High Court to gain clarification. Non-BA pilots are not part of the carrier’s master seniority list - the basis on which BA pilots are promoted throughout their career.
BA pilots claim that OpenSkies is a “Trojan horse” used by BA to erode their terms and conditions as it focuses its growth plans on the new subsidiary. However BA challenged the legality of the proposed strike under Article 43 of the Treaty of Rome, which gives EU-based companies the right to set up a business in a fellow member state.
Jim McAuslan, General Secretary of BALPA said: “After three days in court it became apparent that win, lose or draw we could still face appeal after appeal. BALPA has built financial reserves to take action like this, but we will do so wisely. That is why we have decided to withdraw our request to the court.”
He added: “However we shall now be embarking on an EU-wide campaign to have European law changed so that there is no longer any doubt that Article 43, which essentially deals with businesses in competition, in no way undermines the right of workers to take strike action.”
BALPA’s withdrawal will come as huge relief to BA chief executive Willie Walsh, who could ill afford a pilots strike following the problems with the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow.
BA said the withdrawal “represents acknowledgement by the union that the creation of our subsidiary poses no threat to the jobs, pay or conditions of mainline BA pilots.”
It added that the union had “accepted in court that its ballot in support of industrial action was time-expired and gave an undertaking not to pursue any future ballot on the same issue.”
However BALPA has hinted at some form of other protest. Jim McAuslan said, “We shall be pressing for a review of this law which has prevented British trade union members from protecting their careers. We shall be calling on MPs, MEPs and the International Labour Organisation to work with us to secure a better balance in this increasingly important international area of business. The right to strike has to be declared the overriding right, and BALPA wants others to join us to restore balance and fairness in industrial relations.”