British Airways Victory for Bruce Carr QC and Andrew Burns in Cabin Crew Dispute

Members of Devereux Chambers appeared for British Airways as the Court of Appeal finally determined  the long running dispute with members of its cabin crew over crewing levels. The Court of Appeal gave judgment dismissing the appeal by members of Unite the Union in Malone & Ors v British Airways Plc [2010] EWCA Civ 1225 and upholding the right of the airline to make changes to numbers of employees rostered on each flight. 

Members of Unite sought an injunction at trial to compel British Airways to reverse the cost-cutting reductions to its crewing levels introduced at the end of 2009.  They argued that the crewing levels, which had been collectively agreed with the union, were expressly incorporated into their individual contracts of employment. 

Bruce Carr QC and Andrew Burns (instructed by John Evason of Baker & McKenzie and Julia Harrison of British Airways) argued successfully that such provisions were not apt for incorporation.  Lady Justice Smith giving the leading judgment said that although crewing levels impacted on workload this impact was “neither very frequent nor very serious” and that Bruce Carr made a “powerful argument” that if the provision was individually enforceable, crew members could refuse to fly with a reduced crew complement and delay or even prevent the departure of a flight. She concluded that “the disastrous consequences for BA which could ensue if this term were to be individually enforceable... are so serious as to be unthinkable”.  It was, she held, “intended to be binding only in honour” and so the Court unanimously dismissed the appeal of the cabin crew. 

BA said after the ruling: "We are pleased with today's Court of Appeal judgment, confirming that the modest changes we made to onboard crew numbers on flights from Heathrow 12 months ago were reasonable, did not breach crew contracts and can remain in place. The changes have made a substantial contribution toward easing the company's financial position, and our crew have accepted these working arrangements without difficulty."

The outcome of the case was reported widely including in The LawyerThe Independent, the Wall Street JournalBBC NewsBloomberg and Reuters.

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