British Airways warns union it will fire pilots as it looks to legally challenge UK’s quarantine rule

Ryanair said Friday it would support legal action by its rival

British Airways livery sits on the tail fins of passenger aircraft operated by British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA (IAG), sitting on the tarmac at London Heathrow Airport, London, U.K. on Monday, March 16, 2020. Airlines worldwide will shrink operations to only a trickle of flights, severing global links and putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk as they fight to preserve cash and survive the coronavirus pandemic. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

British Airways is battling a ­pilots’ union that is resisting further job cuts as the airline initiates a legal process to block the UK’s 14-day self-isolation plan for arrivals, which starts on Monday.

BA warned the British Airline Pilots’ Association that it would dismiss all of its 4,300 pilots and rehire them on individual contracts unless the union reached an agreement with the company.

The airline, which is negotiating a planned reduction of 1,130 roles represented by Balpa, sought another 125 pilot job cuts last Wednesday, the union said.

“This has seriously undermined our talks, which now hang by a thread,” Brian Strutton, the general secretary of the union, said.

“It calls into question whether BA is even capable of conducting industrial relations properly and whether anything they say can be trusted.”

A representative for the airline, which is working on cutting 12,000 jobs across the company, said BA was acting now to protect as many jobs possible.

The representative said the industry was “facing the deepest structural change in its history, as well as facing a severely weakened global economy”.

Concerned that the self-isolation requirement would block its plans to restart services in July, British Airways’ parent IAG sent a letter to the Home Office to start the process to block the quarantine, which could lead to a lawsuit, Bloomberg reported.

The letter, also signed by Europe’s two biggest discount operators, Ryanair 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 more than those from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The quarantine is being introduced as the airlines try to salvage the normally busy summer season.

The letter said the 14-day quarantine for travellers was also more stringent than the one for those who test positive for the virus.

“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,” the letter said.

The Home Office declined to comment on the potential legal action on Saturday. On Friday, James Slack, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, told reporters that the government wants to work with the industry as the country moves through the pandemic.

If BA and the other operators push ahead with the legal challenge, a court proceeding known as a judicial review will be held in London’s High Court.

The transport sector is no stranger to judicial reviews. 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 use the right procedures.

Like airlines worldwide, IAG is slashing costs to contend with a historic drop in travel.

Operators in Europe have signalled plans to eliminate more than 50,000 positions since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, including 10,000 last Wednesday at Germany’s Lufthansa.