LONDON (Reuters) - British Airways Plc won a legal bid on Monday to block a threatened five-day strike by cabin crew members, though unions said they would immediately appeal the decision.
The first of four five-day walkouts had been due to begin at midnight, but will now not go ahead as planned.
BA’s lawyers had argued that the Unite union had broken the law on a technicality over the way it had conducted the strike ballot.
In the end, Justice McCombe granted the order against the union. He said the “balance of convenience” in his view required the granting of an injunction.
In a statement, BA said it would aim to restore a full flight slate at London’s Heathrow airport by the weekend, pending any further disruption from the volcanic ash cloud.
It had originally anticipated operating only 60 percent of long-haul flights out of Heathrow over the strike period and 50 percent of short-haul flights.
BA called upon Unite to “take this opportunity to pause and focus on achieving the early and peaceful end to this dispute which the travelling public and all our employees want.”
The union, however, said it would appeal the decision as early as Tuesday.
The dispute with cabin crew over pay and conditions has already resulted in seven days of strikes in March, which cost the airline 45 million pounds.
Unite said on Sunday it had reached agreement in principle with BA over its plans to save 62.5 million pounds a year to counter falling demand, volatile fuel prices and greater competition.
Earlier the union’s joint leader Derek Simpson said it was “not beyond the bounds of possibility” that a deal could be struck.
“One of the jobs that needs to be done is to provide reassurance and some confidence that if we do a deal, the deal sticks,” he told BBC TV.
“There has to be resolution. It would be sad to see either the company collapse and capitulate, or it would be equally sad to see our members dragged back to work in defeat. It shouldn’t be allowed to get to that stage.”
The union has said the main sticking point to a deal was the restoration of travel perks taken away from staff who went on strike in March and other disciplinary matters.
BA Chief Executive Willie Walsh said the travel perks were not the issue.
“This is not about travel concessions; this is about a dysfunctional trade union,” he said. “I‘m an optimist at heart and I hope that common sense will prevail and this strike action will be called off.”
Britain’s new transport minister Philip Hammond, who met both parties on Monday, urged them to keep talking.
“Think about the long-term interests of the UK, the UK travelling public, the employees and the airline, because actually they are all the same,” he told BBC radio.
Additional reporting by Peter Griffiths, Adrian Croft and Matt Scuffham; Editing by David Cowell and Gerald E. McCormick