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British Airways union to hold new strike ballot

LONDON - LONDON (AP) — The union for British Airways cabin crew said Friday it would swiftly hold another strike vote after a court blocked a planned walkout over the Christmas and New Year's holiday travel period.

A quick ballot could allow for a rescheduled walkout in January. Under British labor laws, the Unite union has to give formal notice of another ballot and then seven days notice of a strike if members vote "yes."

The High Court on Thursday granted BA an emergency injunction against the 12-day strike, which had been due to begin on Tuesday, on the grounds that Unite's ballot was illegal because it included members who no longer worked at the airline.

The strike had threatened to disrupt the travel plans of around one million festive season travelers.

High Court Justice Laura Cox also denied Unite permission to appeal the judgement in the High Court, although the union can apply to do so in the higher Court of Appeal.

"Unite, while not ruling out a future appeal, is expected to move swiftly towards a fresh ballot, believing it to be the surest way to make ensure members' voices are heard is to reballot, so we will be concentrating on this and not a protracted legal process," the union said in a statement.

The dispute between the loss-making airline and its cabin crew staff over pay cuts and reduced staffing levels has grown increasingly acrimonious.

The ballot disallowed by the High Court showed a 9-1 majority in favour of a walkout, with a turnout of around 80 percent of some 13,000 cabin crew staff.

BA argues the disputed changes to staffing and pay — including a pay freeze in 2010, a switch to part-time work for 3,000 staff and a reduction in cabin crew sizes from 15 to 14 on long-haul flights from Heathrow airport — are necessary to ride out its dire financial situation.

The union alleges the changes to pay and conditions are in breach of contract, but last month agreed to fly with reduced staffing after failing to win its own court injunction banning their imposition until a High Court decision on the dispute Feb. 1.

The High Court is also due to rule on a preexisting court action by the union on the cost-cutting measures imposed by BA on Feb. 1.

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