UK tourism nightmare as Heathrow security and London attraction staff strike

'Passengers should not be concerned about strike action,' airport chief says

Security guard members of the Unite union on the picket line at Heathrow Airport. PA
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Security guards at Heathrow Airport will launch a three-day strike on Thursday, the same day workers at London tourist attractions and other sites across the city will walk out, both over pay disputes.

Members of the Unite union have already held 15 days of strikes, including over the busy Easter period.

Heathrow said it has contingency plans in place to keep the airport open and operating as usual, and added that passengers can expect to have a “smooth” half-term getaway.

“Passengers should not be concerned about strike action by Unite over the half-term getaway,” Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye said.

“The 15 days of strike action over the Easter peak and coronation weekends have had no impact on the smooth running of the airport, and passengers have not noticed any difference from the normal great service they expect at Heathrow.

“These strikes are completely unnecessary. When I speak to colleagues, the overwhelming message is that they just want to vote on our pay offer, but Unite won’t let them.

“We made a generous 10 per cent offer early on, to make sure colleagues got a substantial increase when they needed it most. Unite’s delays mean non-union colleagues, as well as the majority of colleagues who are union members, who voted to accept our previous offer are losing out.”

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May half-term is always a busy time for travel, and Heathrow said it may take a little longer than usual to get through security, but added this will be “well managed and kept flowing”.

Unite said Heathrow security officers are paid less than workers at other major airports in London and the south-east.

“There is absolutely no justification for security officers at Heathrow being paid far less than comparable officers at other London airports,” Regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said.

“Heathrow regularly trumpets how successful it is as the UK’s premium airport so there is no defence in it paying bargain-basement wages.

“Heathrow can clearly meet a cost-of-living increase for our members; they’re deliberately choosing not to, pushing our members deeper into financial difficulties.”

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GMB members at London tourist attractions walk out

Meanwhile, Members of the GMB union will mount picket lines on Thursday outside the Barbican Centre; Guildhall School of Music & Drama; City of London School for Girls; London Metropolitan Archives; Smithfield Market; Tower Bridge; Old Bailey; London Port Health Authority and other sites.

The union said more than 900 workers employed by the City of London Corporation will walk out for 24 hours after voting overwhelmingly for a strike.

“These people are working in one of the richest places on the planet,” said Anna Lee, GMB London region organiser.

“All they are asking for is a decent pay rise to help with the cost of living.

“It’s a scandal they have to close major tourist attractions just to get their voices heard by City of London Corporation bosses, but that’s what it’s come to.

“GMB calls on the City of London Corporation to properly value and respect their staff and return to the negotiating table.”

A City of London Corporation representative said: “Our 2022-23 pay award gave all full-time employees at least £2,300 ($2,845) extra. In our view, it addressed the challenges staff face in the fairest way possible, while ensuring we met our statutory duty to deliver a balanced budget.

“We appreciate how difficult it is for many people in the current economic climate and our one-off winter payment of £1,000 provided in October gave real, practical support to all our staff to help them cope with the cost-of-living crisis.

“This amount has now been confirmed as consolidated into base pay during 2023-24.

“The minimum pay increase awarded last year meant our lowest paid staff – those most affected by the cost-of-living crisis – received an increase of over 12 per cent.

“Providing the inflation-matching pay increase demanded by the unions would result in significant cuts to services, including making a considerable number of redundancies.”

Updated: May 25, 2023, 6:06 AM