Heathrow relief as fuel workers suspend strike at 11th hour

Walkout would have added to woes at airport already under pressure from travel chaos

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Fuel workers at Heathrow Airport called off a strike which was due to start today and would have brought further disruption to the already troubled airport.

The walkout had threatened to disrupt flights from Thursday to Sunday at the UK's largest airport.

The announcement is a rare glimmer of good news for passengers using the beleaguered airport, which is already suffering from delays and caps on passenger numbers owing to staff shortages. The chairman of Heathrow, Lord Paul Deighton, has laid the blame for travel chaos on airlines failing to recruit enough baggage handlers.

The 11th hour suspension was decided after the Unite union received a “sustainably improved offer” from Aviation Fuel Services, it said in a statement. Details of the new offer were not disclosed.

The roughly 50 employees involved will now be given time to consider the proposal, which came about in talks facilitated by a conciliation service, the group said.

The strike by Aviation Fuel Services (AFS) employees would have affected Virgin Atlantic, United, Singapore, KLM, American, Emirates, Air France and Delta flights, which use the company's services.

The threatened action by refuelling workers was one of a number of labour disputes that have contributed to travel chaos across Europe this summer. British Airways, whose main base is Heathrow, earlier this month reached an agreement with check-in employees to head off a strike, after it scrapped thousands of flights amid a staffing crunch.

Passengers run the gauntlet at Heathrow

The airport last week imposed a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic to contain the chaos, asking airlines to stop selling tickets for the summer season. That prompted a clash with some airlines, including Emirates.

In a statement, Unite said that following negotiations held at the conciliation service ACAS on Wednesday, “a sustainably improved offer was made and as a consequence Unite suspended the strike action to allow its members to ballot on the new offer”.

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: “Unite has consistently said that AFS was capable of making an offer more likely to meet members' expectations. Following the assistance of ACAS an improved offer was made.

“Members will now be given the time to consider and vote on the new offer.”

The union previously said these workers had not received a pay rise for three years, and in this time their incomes had fallen by 15.5 per cent in real terms.

Soaring UK inflation could now top 11 per cent this year. Britain is in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis as inflation — at a 40-year high of 9.4 per cent — eats into workers' pay packets.

This week, union leaders in Britain indicated that they will embark on a wave of strikes after the government offered pay increases to public sector workers that were below the rate of inflation.

Updated: July 21, 2022, 7:19 AM