Thousands of Heathrow workers plan 23-day strike in April

Saleha Riaz
·4 min read
Unite said workers have experienced pay cuts of up to £8,000. Photo: Getty Images
Unite said Heatrhow workers have experienced pay cuts of up to £8,000. Photo: Getty Images

Trade union Unite announced that Heathrow Airport's workers will go on a 23-day strike next month in a series of 41 strikes, as a long-running dispute over the airport’s ‘fire and rehire’ policy and pay cuts continues.

Last month, planned strikes were suspended so proposals to resolve a dispute over pay and conditions could be considered.

But Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said Heathrow “has yet to give any kind of formal response" to its proposals.

“These strike days are avoidable, yet Heathrow is not listening. It railroaded these pay cuts through at a staggering speed, leaving thousands of workers on less pay just before Christmas,” he added.

“There is a fortnight before Unite’s spring strike offensive begins and management could still resolve this dispute if it has the will to do so,” he said.

Unite has said targeted strike action will begin on 2 April and will involve engineering, airside operations, landside operations, fire service, campus security and central terminal operations.

Each sector will be taking seven days of strike action. During the strike period at least one of the sectors will be on strike on most days, Unite said.

It explained the dispute is a result of Heathrow's decision to fire and rehire its 4,000 strong workforce.

It said workers have also experienced pay cuts of up to £8,000 ($11,121), which make u about 25% of their earnings, and have reported being forced to move to cheaper areas or give up their car.

“Unite has described the decision to fire and rehire the workers as being all about greed and not about need. If this was about making savings due to the COVID-19 pandemic than pay cuts would have been temporary rather than permanent,” it said.

The trade union highlighted Heathrow's CEO John Holland Kaye stating that despite losing £2bn last year the company still had “£3.9bn of liquidity, enough to see us through until 2023.”

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It also said the strike is now longer than had been initially intended, following a recent decision by Heathrow to not pay a worker for a complete shift if the worker is on strike for any of that time – a move which has "further harmed industrial relations."

A Heathrow spokesperson responded to the news by stating that "every frontline colleague has accepted the new offer which pays above the market rate and London Living Wage. Nobody has been fired and re-hired and indeed 48% saw no change or experienced a pay increase."

London Living Wage is currently £10.85 per hour.

The airport group said it has also launched a business recovery incentive payment to all colleagues which offers a reward if the airport has recovered sufficiently in two years’ time.

"Despite losses of over £2bn since the start of the pandemic, our approach has protected jobs and avoided huge swathes of compulsory redundancies. These strikes unnecessarily threaten further damage to the business, but nevertheless, we have activated extensive contingency plans which will keep the airport open and operating safely over strike days," the spokesperson added.

Last month, Heathrow said it suffered an annual loss of £2bn in 2020, as passenger numbers were hit and the pandemic took a major toll on the travel industry.

It said this highlighted “the devastating impact of COVID-19 on aviation” as passenger numbers collapsed to 22.1 million, levels not seen since the 1970s.

Overall revenue fell 62% to £1.2bn and adjusted EBITDA fell to £270m.

“Government policies over recent months have effectively closed borders. We have had no government support, other than furlough, and have not been given relief from business rates, unlike other airports, retail and hospitality businesses,” Heathrow had said at the time.

Heathrow also said it has been engaged in discussions with union leadership on proposals for over 10 months and has taken on board several pieces of feedback and amended its policies accordingly.

Meanwhile, it look like if the strikes go ahead as planned they will be over before Heathrow gets busy with a potentially busy summer period.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson said a government taskforce will produce a report by 12 April which will recommend how international trips can resume for people in England, as part of his roadmap out of the country’s third national lockdown. This could lead to foreign holidays being allowed by 17 May.

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