Heathrow faces summer disruption as workers vote to strike

check in Heathrow

Photo: Steve Parsons/PA Archive/PA Images

Heathrow airport could be shut down for several days this summer because of strike action by more than 4,000 workers.

Security guards, engineers, passenger service operatives and drivers have voted to walk out on 26-27 July, 5-6 August and 23-24 August over a pay dispute.

Unite union members supported strike action in eight ballots following the rejection of an 18-month pay offer of 2.7%, which according to the union adds up to just £3.75 extra day for the lowest paid workers – largely security guards – involved in the dispute. Unite told Personnel Today that its members were looking for a pay increase of 4.5% and a pathway to fairer pay for people doing similar jobs.

According to the union, members have been annoyed by growing pay disparities between workers doing the same job at the airport and the size of the pay packet awarded to its chief executive John Holland-Kaye. Last year, he received a 103.2% rise with his basic pay soaring from £2.097m in 2017 to £4.2m in 2018.

Alex Flynn, head of media and campaigns at Unite told Personnel Today: “Our members’ are scratching their heads somewhat as it appears to be one rule for one and one for another. If the CEO is getting rewarded for the airport’s success then why aren’t they, with a decent pay rise.”

Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King added: “They are fed up of being expected to accept crumbs while the chief executive pockets an eye popping 103% rise in his pay package and shareholders are handed dividends of over £2bn in the last two years alone.

“To add insult to injury there are widening pay disparities leading to airport security guards employed after 2014 earning up to £6,000 less than colleagues hired before that date. Bosses at Heathrow Airport need to get their heads out of the sand and start negotiating meaningfully over pay.”

Unite yesterday (11 July) said it was balloting 100 of its members at Gatwick airport who were employed to scan passengers’ luggage. It said they were paid £8.50 an hour and would be seeking a rise to £9 an hour to match Real Living Wage levels. The workers are employed by security firm ICTS.

There may also be some disruption at Stansted airport with 17 days of strikes planned by 43 check-in staff employed by Stobart Aviation Services, which has the easyJet contract at the airport. Again, the background to the strike action, while involving low pay compared with comparable jobs at the airport, is set against a large payment to a senior executive, in this case a multimillion pound bonus being paid to Stobart chief executive Warwick Brady.

A Heathrow spokesperson said the airport’s management was disappointed about the prospect of strike action and would be instigating contingency plans to ensure the airport remains open.

She added: “We have proposed a progressive pay package giving at least a 4.6% pay rise to over 70% of our frontline colleagues. The total package offered is above RPI and is specifically designed to boost the wages of lower paid colleagues. We have invited our union colleagues back to the table and urge them to continue working with us to reach an agreement.”

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