Heathrow Airport strikes loom as workers reject pay offer

Last-ditch talks are to be held to try to avert a strike by thousands of workers at Heathrow Airport after they voted overwhelmingly to reject a pay offer.

Friday, 2nd August 2019, 9:18 pm
Updated Friday, 2nd August 2019, 10:21 pm

Unite said its 4,000 members, including security guards, firefighters and engineers, rejected a revised deal by 88%.

A two-day strike is planned to start on Monday, with a further 48-hour stoppage due from August 23.

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Heathrow Airport (pic: Steve Parsons/PA Wire)

Heathrow cancelled a number of flights on Monday and Tuesday before hearing the ballot result.

Unite said it would immediately enter talks at the conciliation service Acas and warned Heathrow against choosing to pay millions of pounds in compensation to airlines for cancelled flights rather than using that money to settle the dispute.

Unite regional officer Wayne King said: "Heathrow faces a compensation bill in the region of £4.6 million from airlines if the planned strikes go ahead.

"Rather than provoking the disruption that strike action will cause, we would urge Heathrow Airport to use this money for an improved pay offer that better reflects the hard work of the workers who keep the airport running safely and smoothly.

"This latest vote for strike action points to growing anger among the airport's workers in a whole range of vital jobs which are essential to the smooth and safe running of Heathrow.

"Airport bosses need to heed this latest strike vote and the overwhelming rejection by our members of the revised pay offer which offers little over and above the original offer of £3.75 extra a day for many workers.

"It is in Heathrow bosses' power to settle this dispute. We would urge them to work with us to do so and avoid the disruption to passengers that strike action will inevitably bring."

A Heathrow spokesman said earlier: "We are disappointed that Unite has rejected the latest pay offer and will continue to seek an agreement at Acas.

"Unite is proceeding with its unnecessary strike action on August 5 and 6, and we regret that passengers looking to get away on well-earned breaks will be impacted by this.

"We have activated contingency plans which will keep the airport open and safe on both strike days. We expect security queue times to be slightly longer than normal and advise passengers to check our website for detailed information on how to prepare for their flights and when to arrive at the airport.

"As part of our plans, we are working with airlines to proactively consolidate flights and rebook passengers onto alternative services in advance.

"We also advise passengers to contact their airlines for the latest information, as well as follow our Twitter and Facebook accounts for further updates."

Heathrow said it has cancelled 172 flights departing across Monday and Tuesday, with passengers either been re-booked onto alternative services or given a refund.

A row flared before any strikes started, when the firefighters' union accused Heathrow of planning to hire a ‘privatised strike-breaking outfit’ from Surrey County Council to replace crews taking industrial action.

The Fire Brigades Union said South East Business Services was set up by the council over four years ago as a separate local authority trading company.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "This is a backhanded act of strike-breaking from Surrey County Council.

"Airport fire crews are specialists and, quite frankly, this Micky Mouse outfit will not be trained to deal with airplane fires to anywhere near the standard of airport firefighters. They're playing fast and loose with public safety at an airport, one of the most high-risk locations imaginable.

"Striking Heathrow workers have the full support of the FBU. It is grossly unfair that they be treated so poorly, while executives and shareholders line their own pockets. No one, and certainly no firefighters, should be helping bosses undermine this strike under any circumstance."

A Heathrow spokesman said: "We operate in a highly regulated environment and our contingency firefighting teams are trained and certified to the same UK standards as our own colleagues. Airport fire and rescue teams operating at Heathrow during the strikes will be properly trained, equipped and qualified to operate in an aerodrome environment."

The airport said it will operate throughout any industrial action in accordance with strict Department for Transport and Civil Aviation Authority regulations.

A Heathrow spokesman added: "The claim from Unite that Heathrow is paying compensation to airlines as a result of these strikes is false."