British Airways check-in staff set to strike during peak of summer holidays
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As if fears over summer travel turmoil weren’t grave enough, British Airways (BA) staff at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) have voted to strike at the peak of the holiday season.
Airports are already creaking under the weight of a chronic staffing shortage that has led to mammoth queues, flight delays and cancellations at airports across the country in recent weeks.
Now, around 700 British Airways ground and check-in staff at Heathrow – largely based at Terminals 3 and 5 – with the Unite and GMB unions have voted overwhelmingly in favour of walking out over a pay dispute, with Unite members 94.7% in favour of industrial action, along with 95% of GMB members.
Strike dates will be announced in the coming days, reports say – but is likely to be in late July if the issue isn’t resolved beforehand.
Unite previously explained: “Should workers vote in favour of industrial action, strikes are expected to occur in July when demands for flights is expected to be high.”
At the heart of the dispute is anger that BA has refused to reverse a 10% cut on workers at the lower level during the pandemic, despite restoring management pay to 2019 levels.
GMB’s national officer Natalie Houghton said: “With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways.
“BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10% one-off bonus payment, but this doesn’t cut the mustard. Our members need to be reinstated the 10% they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10% bonus which other colleagues have been paid.
“GMB members at Heathrow have suffered untold abuse as they deal with the travel chaos caused by staff shortages and IT failures. At the same time, they’ve had their pay slashed during BA’s callous fire and rehire policy. What did BA think was going to happen?
“It’s not too late to save the summer holidays – other BA workers have had their pay cuts reversed, do the same for ground and check-in staff and this industrial action can be nipped in the bid.”
Prior to the announcement in favour of striking, Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham said: “British Airways used the cover of COVID-19 to brutally cut members’ pay. BA has now reversed the pay cuts imposed on management but refuses to do this for our members. This is disgraceful. Unite will not allow our members to be treated as a second-class workforce.
“Our members are rightly furious and ready to take action. A strike by our members will make an immediate impact on the service to customers so I urge BA to get a grip and restore these workers’ pay immediately.”
For its part, BA said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision to strike, adding: “Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4 billion, we made an offer of a 10% payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.”
If it goes ahead, the strike could add to the turmoil that has spawned chaotic scenes at airports up and down Britain since late May 2022.
Recent data from Cirium showed that London Heathrow Airport was the second-worst afflicted airport after London Gatwick Airport (LGW) – though the 5,000 to 15,000 people hit by flight cancellations at Heathrow due to a ‘baggage mountain’ earlier this week aren’t included in that statistic.
A number of airlines, including BA and easyJet, have cancelled hundreds of flights in recent weeks, while TUI recently announced the cancellation of around 43 flights a week from Manchester Airport (MAN) until 30 June to prevent further problems at UK airports.
Additional reporting by Matt Blake.
Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.
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