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Refuellers Call Off Heathrow Strike That Threatened to Ground 35 Airlines Over May Day Bank Holiday Getaway

Refuellers Call Off Heathrow Strike That Threatened to Ground 35 Airlines Over May Day Bank Holiday Getaway

a group of airplanes at an airport

A strike by refuelling staff at Heathrow Airport has been called off after their employer agreed to improve pension and sick leave provisions for new staff that joined the company since January 2024.

Around 50 staff who provide crucial refuelling services for 35 different airlines at Heathrow had threatened to stage a 72-hour strike beginning on 4th May, potentially grounding the likes of Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and American Airlines.

Other airlines that could have been hit hard by the walkout included Delta and United Airlines, Qantas, Singapore Airlines and Japan Airlines, although British Airways was never at risk as it uses a different refuelling provider.

The workers are employed by Aviation Fuel Services (AFS), a joint venture between four multi-million-pound oil and gas companies such as BP and Total. The Unite union blasted AFS for creating a ‘two-tier workforce‘ with new joiners getting reduced pension and sickness benefits.

On Monday, however, the union said it had called off the strike after AFS caved and agreed to improve pension and sickness provisions to something closer to what veteran staffers enjoy.

“This is another victory for Unite in its campaign for members’ pay and conditions and workers at AFS should be congratulated for standing firm against their employer and winning these improved terms,” commented Sharon Graham, the general secretary of the Unite union on Monday.

Matt’s take

This outcome won’t come as a surprise to industry observers who were confident that a deal would be struck before any strike actually went ahead. Back in 2022, AFS workers also threatened to stage a 72-hour strike, and that walkout was also averted with big concessions from the company.

Unite is one of the biggest unions in the British aviation industry, and as the world started to emerge from the pandemic, it realised that it had a lot more clout to start demanding better pay and better working conditions for its members.

We’ve seen Unite threaten strike action pretty regularly, although last-minute deals nearly always avoid any major disruption. That being said, there is another strike threat looming over Heathrow Airport, with security staff, firefighters and ground operations workers planning a seven-day strike over the May Day bank holiday.

Heathrow has, however, dismissed warnings of travel chaos and says its contingency plans will keep the airport running smoothly even if the strike goes ahead.

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