British Airways staff at Heathrow vote to strike this summer

Trade union ballot returned 95 per cent support for walkout

British Airways staff at Heathrow Airport in west London plan to strike this summer. Reuters
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Hundreds of British Airways workers at Heathrow Airport have voted to strike during the school summer holidays over a pay row.

The GMB trade union balloted its BA members working at the west London airport on Thursday morning, with 95 per cent of them voting for strike action this summer.

The union warned of “massive disruption” to travel over the coming months.

A separate vote of BA workers at Heathrow who are members of the Unite union is under way, with results expected on Monday.

The dispute over pay could lead to a walkout by 700 check-in and ground handling staff at the UK’s busiest airport.

The airline's refusal to reverse a 10 per cent pay cut imposed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic is at the centre of the row, the unions said. BA said it has offered a 10 per cent one-off bonus to employees but refused to give in to demands for a return to pre-Covid pay.

BA has been struggling to recruit staff quickly enough to cope with an increasing demand for travel since Covid restrictions have been eased. The airline has been widely criticised for cutting 10,000 jobs during the pandemic.

The announcement of strikes among BA staff comes during the largest rail strikes in Britain in more than 30 years. About 40,000 members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers' (RMT) Union are on their second of three days of industrial action.

The RMT is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the government over pay, jobs and conditions. Talks are continuing but union bosses have warned of further strikes if an agreement is not reached, giving rise to fears of a summer of travel chaos in Britain.

BA urged to 'save the summer holidays'

Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, hit out at BA’s offer of “crumbs from the table” and questioned how the airline could have thought its proposal would be accepted by employees.

"With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pigheadedness of British Airways," she said.

“BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10 per cent one-off bonus payment, but this doesn’t cut the mustard. Our members need to be reinstated the 10 per cent they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10 per cent 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?"

Urging the airline to reconsider, Ms Houghton said "it’s not too late to save the summer holidays" and pointed out that BA employees in other locations have had their pay cuts reversed. If the airline adopted the same policy for their Heathrow-based staff, the industrial action would be called off, she said.

Another union official, Russ Ball of Unite, said BA had only itself to blame.

"The problems BA is facing are entirely of its own making," he said. "It brutally cut jobs and pay during the pandemic, even though the government was paying them to save jobs."

BA voices disappointment

A BA representative called the strikes "extremely disappointing" and said the company was committed to finding a solution.

"We’re extremely disappointed with the result and that the unions have chosen to take this course of action," the representative said. "Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4 billion [$4.9bn], we made an offer of a 10 per cent payment that was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.

"We are fully committed to work together to find a solution, because to deliver for our customers and rebuild our business we have to work as a team. We will of course keep our customers updated about what this means for them as the situation evolves."

A representative for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to reach an agreement.

"We don't want to see any further disruption for passengers and strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers at airports.

"We expect BA to put in place contingency measures to ensure that as little disruption [as possible] is caused and that where there is disruption that passengers can be refunded."

The strikes are the latest problem to blight the UK flag carrier. In March, BA passengers were stranded at Heathrow after an IT glitch forced the airline to cancel and postpone flights. And this month, a panel of British politicians was told by Sue Davies, head of consumer rights at consumer watchdog Which, that the airline had presided over a "blatant flouting" of its obligations to passengers.

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Updated: June 23, 2022, 5:14 PM
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