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BA braces for legal battle

A union is taking British Airways back to court in a bid to overturn changes made to cabin crews' working arrangements, as the carrier prepares to report an expected large quarterly loss later this week.

BA wants three quarters of its crew to accept a pay freeze this year, and for 3,000 staff to switch to part-time working, along with a reduction in on-board crewing levels from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from London's Heathrow airport.

But union Unite, which last year failed in an attempt to get a high court injunction to block the airline's plans, said it was not consulted properly on the changes.

BA argues that it is entitled to cut the number of cabin crew on board its Worldwide and Eurofleet flights as these are not terms of individual cabin crew members' contracts and that the cuts -- designed to save Ł140 million a year -- are essential to safeguard the long-term future of the airline.

“Revenues are well down and it is essential we reduce costs to ensure our long-term survival. Thousands of staff across the airline have already made contributions to the cost-reduction program,” BA said in a statement.

Unite was unavailable for comment.

The British carrier posts third-quarter to end-December results on Friday, with analysts expecting an operating loss of between Ł90 million and Ł100 million.

It is also expected to report a full year pretax loss of Ł627.76 million, according to the average from a Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S poll of 17 analysts.

“Unite has already failed to stop the changes, which have since been implemented, and the status quo has moved on now so it almost seems like a case of 'so what?',” said Marc Meryon, an industrial relations lawyer at Bircham Dyson Bell.

“If BA loses it can give staff 12 weeks' notice and put staff on new contracts, which is an option it has open to it.”

Unite is in the process of re-balloting its members after BA last month won a court ruling to prevent a cabin crew strike that threatened to strand around a million passengers over Christmas.

The new ballot closes on February 22.

The court hearing, expected to last five days, will resolve whether there should be a permanent injunction preventing BA from imposing cost-cutting plans. (Reuters)