Trouble in Heathrow: workers to strike over pay-cuts

Shutterstock / Tom Eversley

Heathrow airport workers, represented by Unite the Union, plan four days of strikes over reduced pay. 

Due to the coronavirus crisis and radical decrease of passenger traffic, around 4,000 staff have been asked to sign new contracts that would cut their pay by about 20%. The workers union accused the administration of Heathrow airport (LHR) of intimidating and bullying its employees. They said that the airport had cash reserves that could be used instead of saving money on the staff salaries. 

The strike is organized by Unite the Union, the UK’s main aviation union. Its members involve firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, operational, and airside workers. 

Unite’s regional coordinating officer Wayne King said: “The airport is using the COVID-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay.” He added: “These decisions will turn Heathrow from one of the most successful airports in the world into a workplace run on bullying and intimidation, it’s disgraceful. 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.”

The strikes are planned for December 1, 14, 17, 18, 2020. They would last for 24 hours and would possibly disturb the airport schedule, unless an agreement between the two sides is reached. “Unite is fully prepared to take part in talks to resolve this dispute anytime, anyplace and anywhere,” said King. 

Heathrow claims it tried to keep as many jobs as possible, but it had to adapt to the situation. “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,” said Heathrow spokesperson. 

In September 2020, Heathrow reported an 84% fall in passenger numbers and lost its title of Europe’s busiest airport to Paris Charles de Gaulles. The situation worsened after the UK went into the lockdown measures in the beginning of November 2020. Heathrow already warned the UK government that without help passenger traffic would head elsewhere and job cuts would be unavoidable. 

Heathrow is losing about £5 million ($6,7 million) a day and forecasts passenger numbers of 22.6 million next year ‒ less than a quarter of 2019 levels. It also has claimed its finances were solid and it had reserves to tide it over until 2023.

The airport has lobbied for a new pre-departure COVID-19 testing system that would permit more international travel to resume. On October 20, 2020, a pre-departure rapid testing facility was set up in Heathrow airport. It initially offered testing only for flights to Hong Kong.

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