Christmas holiday travel could be disrupted with 4 days of strikes at Heathrow in December

Nov 17, 2020

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Some Christmas holiday season travel through London Heathrow could be disrupted by strikes.

Workers at Heathrow are set to strike for four days in December over the airport’s “fire and rehire” plans that would see wages cut by up to £8,000.

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According to The Guardian, about 4,000 Heathrow workers have been told to sign new contracts, which could cut pay by as much as 20%. The Unite union said that the pay cuts were unnecessary.

“The airport is using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay,” Unite’s regional coordinating officer Wayne King told The Guardian. “These decisions will turn Heathrow from one of the most successful airports in the world into a workplace run on bullying and intimidation, it’s disgraceful. In the midst of a global pandemic, no key worker should be forced to take such deep pay cuts by an employer that claims to have billions in reserves.”

Heathrow said that it’s been forced to enact pay cuts as it’s seen passenger numbers slashed during the coronavirus pandemic. In October, passengers travelling through the U.K.’s busiest airport were down 82%, with November’s numbers expected to drop even lower, given the country’s second lockdown.

The first strike will take place on 1 December, when the new contracts take effect. Then again, the Heathrow workers will strike on 14, 17 and 18 December. Most areas of the airport’s operations would be affected by the strike, as firefighters, engineers, operations, security and baggage staff are set to participate.

However, Heathrow said that it will continue to operate during the strike period.

“It’s very disappointing that Unite has decided to take strike action during the worst crisis to hit the aviation sector,” a Heathrow spokesperson said in a statement. “We will now activate extensive contingency plans which will keep the airport open and operating safely throughout this period.”

It’s possible that Christmas holiday travel could become even more disrupted this year.

Last month, Heathrow lost its title as the busiest airport in Europe, handing the title over to Paris Charles de Gaulle. Between January and September 2020, 19 million passengers transited through Heathrow, compared to 19.3 million through Paris during the same period.

Heathrow CEO John Holland-Kaye has pleaded with the government to implement a testing alternative to quarantine. Since non-essential travel was allowed to resume in July, the government has taken a strict quarantine approach to international travel. Travellers arriving from non-travel corridor countries have been forced to quarantine for 14 days.

Airline and industry executives, including Holland-Kaye, have pressured the government to adopt a more flexible programme, allowing passengers to test out of a full quarantine. Industry executives believe that with the implementation of such a programme, tourism will get a boost. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said last week that the government has made “good progress” on a testing programme.

Featured photo by Andrew Holt/Getty Images.

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