Heathrow Airport has already suffered a “catastrophic decline” in passenger numbers this year because of the continuing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic but the airport’s workers are now threatening to bring Heathrow to its knees with a series of strikes in the crucial run-up to Christmas. The Unite union which is coordinating the strike action said Heathrow was using the Corona crisis as a “smokescreen” to permanently slash workers wages.
The union said on Monday that 85 per cent of Heathrow’s 4,000 workers had voted in favour in strike action over the proposed pay cuts. Workers threatening to down tools over include airside firefighters, security guards, engineers and baggage operations.
Heathrow would not be allowed to legally operate without sufficient airside fire fighting coverage meaning that no planes would be allowed to take-off or land. Cargo operations would also be severely hit during a busy pre-holiday period and when countries are making urgent plans to take delivery of COVID-19 vaccinations.
“This strike action will undoubtedly cause a great deal of disruption to passengers and cargo deliveries using the airport but this is purely a result of the company’s appalling treatment of workers,” commented Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King.
“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,” King continued. Some workers face pay cuts of £8,000 and could be sacked if they refuse to sign the new contracts, King claimed.
The Unite union claims Heathrow has enough in cash reserves to survive for 15-months without a single plane landing at the airport. The airport, however, says passenger traffic was down 82 per cent in October and a ban on people living in England leaving the country for any reason apart from work is likely to make the situation even worse.
The first 24-hour strike is set to take place on December 1 (before a national lockdown finishes), with a second 24-hour strike scheduled for December 14. A 48-hour stoppage is then set to take place between December 17 and 18.
King said the union was willing to meet with Heathrow bosses “anytime, anyplace and anywhere” in an attempt to resolve the dispute.
A spokesperson for Heathrow said the airport was working on contingency plans to prevent disruption, saying in an emailed statement:
“It’s very disappointing that Unite has decided to take strike action during the worst crisis to hit the aviation sector. We will now activate extensive contingency plans which will keep the airport open and operating safely throughout this period.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.