Heathrow airport set to grind to halt as strikes announced

Saleha Riaz
·3-min read
The first 24-hour strike will take place on 1 December, next on 14 December, and a 48-hour strike on 17 and 18 December. Photo: Getty Images
The first 24-hour strike will take place on 1 December, next on 14 December, and a 48-hour strike on 17 and 18 December. Photo: Getty Images

Heathrow Airport works, including firefighters and engineers, will strike over plans to fire and rehire 4,000 workers on reduced pay, trade union Unite said, in a move that will “effectively close the airport.”

The strike will also include campus security, baggage operations, operational and airside workers, the union said, adding that 85% of the employees were in favour of industrial action.

The first 24-hour strike will take place on 1 December, with a further one-day stoppage on 14 December. A 48-hour strike is then planned for 17 and 18 December.

The news comes as Heathrow loses its status as Europe’s biggest airport, with bosses warning the UK was playing catch-up on coronavirus testing for passengers, as the pandemic hits the travel industry hard.

The company significantly revised down its 2021 forecasts as the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions continue to hit air travel, predicting 37.1 million passengers next year. It had forecast 62.8 million in June, a sharp decline on 2019 levels but still a significant recovery compared to the 22.6 million journeys now expected this year.

But according to Unite, Heathrow has “repeatedly boasted that it has cash reserves to survive for 15 months even if a single plane does not land at the airport” and is now “trying to force workers to accept permanent pay cuts of up to £8,000 ($10,550) per annum (a quarter of their total pay).”

It explained that workers are being called to one-to-one meetings where they are given four options: to accept the terms of the new contract with a lump sum payment, a phased buydown over two years of the new contract, voluntary severance, or a resignation or termination of their contract.

Unite’s regional coordinating officer Wayne King slammed the move, saying that the airport is using the Covid-19 pandemic “as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay.”

READ MORE: Heathrow says jobs 'guaranteed' but demands staff take pay cuts

He added that: “The way that workers, who are already suffering extreme levels of stress and anxiety, are being treated by management, demonstrates that they have apparently learned all their skills of tact and diplomacy from Donald Trump.”

“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,” he said.

He urged the government to take a “serious look” at how the airport is being run and financed.

Labour MP and former shadow chancellor John Martin McDonnell tweeted his support for the union’s announcement and said: “Heathrow’s management has pushed my constituents working at Heathrow to the limit by using the pandemic as the excuse for permanent cuts in wages and conditions.”

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