British Airways check-in staff and gate agents at the airline’s Heathrow home base are threatening to unleash “chaos” over the busy summer holidays with a threat of a walkout because of a dispute over pandemic-era pay cuts.
The GMB and Unite unions which both represent ground workers at the West London airport said members would shortly vote on whether to back a strike and vowed to stage any walkout during the summer holidays.
“These workers are claiming back what they had robbed from them due to BA’s callous fire and rehire during the pandemic,” slammed Nadine Houghton, national officer of the GMB union.
Several months ago, Houghton described how BA staffers were spat at and had homophobic abuse hurled at them by angry passengers who had been left stranded by one of the airline’s infamous IT meltdowns.
At the time, Houghton warned morale amongst ground staff was at “rock bottom” and cautioned chief executive Sean Doyle that industrial action was on the cards if improvements to pay and conditions weren’t forthcoming.
The airline has offered a bonus worth up to 10 per cent of base salary but that deal was rejected by ground workers who want a permanent reinstatement of pre-pandemic wages.
“BA forced our members into pay cuts during the pandemic, when they had little workplace power to fight back,” Houghton said on Thursday. “Now our members are back at work and staff shortages are hammering the company – it is their time to claim back what is theirs.”
“If BA wants to avoid industrial action that will trash many people’s summer holidays, they need to do what’s right by check-in staff,” Houghton continued.
Those sentiments were shared by Unite’s general secretary Sharon Graham who accused BA of restoring the pay of senior managers “in a further disgraceful move”.
In recent months, Unite has been quick to move to the threat of strike action over pay disputes affecting airport workers. The union has won pay rises for catering workers and baggage maintenance engineers after employers improved their offers in order to avert walkouts.
Along with the threat of ground workers staging a strike, the BASSA cabin crew union has also warned BA that it is facing a “summer of discontent” and has told Doyle that he must move beyond “well-meaning words” in order to win back the support of front line workers.
“It would be easier to feel sympathy (for British Airways) if all of these issues were not self-inflicted but they were,” a recent internal memo read.
In a statement, British Airways pointed out that the ballot was only a ‘consultative ballot’ and not a formal strike ballot.
“While this is not a strike ballot, it is a disappointing response from this small group, considering our genuine offer of a 10% reward this year ahead of planned pay talks,” a spokesperson said.
“Our colleagues are the heart of our business and we are continuing to talk with their union representatives.”
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.