Hundreds of ground handling staff at Heathrow Airport have announced three days of strike action that could cripple the operations of Qatar Airways, Emirates and a slew of other major international airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
Around 700 staff employed by two ground handling agents – The Edinburgh-based Menzies Aviation and Dnata which is part of the Emirates Group and is owned by the government of Dubai – are set to stage a 72 hours strike.
The walkout is expected to start in the early hours of Friday, 18th November and finish during the morning of Monday, 21st November. The strike coincides with the start date of the FIFA World Cup in Doha, the capital of Qatar.
The Unite union which represents workers at both firms has warned that the action will cause disruption, delays and cancellations.
“Our members at Dnata and Menzies undertake highly challenging roles and are simply seeking a decent pay rise,” commented the union’s general secretary Sharon Graham.
“Both companies are highly profitable and can fully afford to make a fair pay increase. The owners and directors are simply lining their own pockets rather than paying their workers fairly,” Graham continued.
Dnata is offering workers a 5 per cent pay rise, while Menzies has tabled offers that vary from 2 to 6 per cent. Graham claims that surging inflation and a cost of living crisis means that both companies are offering pay cuts disguised as pay rises.
The workers perform a wide variety of roles at the airport including ground handling, airside transport and cargo. Qatar Airways could be particularly badly affected because it plans to operate as many as 10 daily flights between Heathrow and Doha during the World Cup period.
Disruption could affect operations in Terminal 2, 3 and 4 but British Airways flights out of Terminal 5 won’t be affected as the airline employs its own ground handlers.
The Unite union has been pushing airline companies for higher rises and workers at both American and United Airlines have voted in favour of strike action. Negotiations are, however, ongoing and no industrial action has yet been announced.
Unions are legally obliged to provide at least two weeks’ notice of any potential walkout, and there is hope that a deal can be struck before the strike goes ahead.
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.