BA in High Court battle with pilots

British Airways will confront pilots’ union Balpa in the High Court today over a threatened strike against its plans to launch a subsidiary airline flying between Paris and New York.

The majority of BA’s 3,200 pilots have voted to strike over BA’s intention to employ pilots at the new airline, branded OpenSkies, on different contracts to those of current employees.

The case has consequences beyond the immediate dispute, threatening the right to strike of trade unions across Europe. It was triggered by Balpa after BA threatened an injunction claiming a strike would breach Article 43 of the Treaty of Rome that gives EU companies the right to set up cross-border businesses.

Balpa argues Article 43 does not apply to industrial disputes and insists strike action will go ahead within a week of a successful verdict. However, BA plans an appeal if it loses and believes the pilots will be legally prevented from striking before the carrier’s launch on June 19.

That may make for a successful launch, but could push a strike into the peak sumemr period of the courts eventually rule in the pilots’ favour.

The confrontation follows the US-EU open-skies deal liberalising air routes across the Atlantic. OpenSkies will fly between New York JFK and Paris Orly, with BA planning to add a second route before the end of the year and expand to a fleet of six Boeing 757 aircraft in 2009.

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