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British Airways threatens to fire pilots, fights UK's quarantine rule
[LONDON] British Airways (BA) is battling its pilot union that's pushing back on further job cuts as the carrier initiates the legal process to block the UK's 14-day self-isolation plan for arrivals starting Monday.
The airline warned its pilots union that it would dismiss all of the company's 4,300 pilots and rehire them on individual contracts unless the union reached an agreement with the carrier. The company, which is negotiating a planned reduction of 1,130 roles represented by the Balpa union, sought another 125 pilot jobs on Wednesday, the union said in an email.
"This has seriously undermined our talks which now hang by a thread," Brian Strutton, the general secretary of the union, said in an email. "It calls into question whether BA is even capable of conducting industrial relations properly and whether anything they say can be trusted."
A spokesperson for the airline, which is working on cutting 12,000 jobs across the company, said in an email it's "acting now to protect as many jobs possible", adding that "the airline industry is facing the deepest structural change in its history, as well as facing a severely weakened global economy".
Concerned the self-isolation requirement would block its plans to restart services in July, BA's parent IAG sent a letter to the Home Office to start the process to block the quarantine, which could lead to a lawsuit, according to a copy of the letter seen by Bloomberg News.
The letter, also signed by Europe's two biggest discount carriers Ryanair Holdings and EasyJet, pointed to how the measures will apply to travellers from countries with lower infection rates than the UK, and disproportionately affect those from England than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the letter showed. The Telegraph first reported the letter.
The 14-day quarantine for travellers is also more stringent than the one for those who test positive for the virus, according to the letter. The carriers also pointed out that the UK is imposing the self-isolation on arrivals from countries that have a lower infection rate than the UK.
"In our view, the government has failed to identify a valid justification for the blanket nature of the regulations, more especially given the extremely severe nature of the self-isolation provisions that apply," according to the letter.
The Home Office declined to comment on the potential legal action late Saturday. On Friday, James Slack, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told reporters the government wants to work with the industry as the country moves through the pandemic.
BA's move came a day after IAG chief executive officer Willie Walsh said he was considering legal action to block the measure. Ryanair said Friday it would support legal action by its rival. The quarantine is being introduced as carriers try to salvage the normally busy summer season.
If BA and the airlines push ahead with a legal challenge, a court proceeding known as a judicial review will be held in London's High Court. The transport sector isn't a stranger to a judicial review. Earlier this year, the procedure was used to force the government to take full account of climate change agreements over its plans for a third runway at Heathrow Airport.
The procedure allows members of the public and corporations to hold the government to account over policy decisions. The process is designed to weigh the lawfulness of how a government decision has been reached, rather than whether the decision is right or wrong. Public bodies that lose judicial review cases can make the same decision again as long as they do so using the right procedures.
Like airlines worldwide, IAG is slashing costs to contend with a historic drop in travel. Carriers in Europe have signalled plans to eliminate more than 50,000 positions since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including 10,000 on Wednesday at Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa.