British Airways check-in staff could strike during peak of summer holiday travels

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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with the latest information.

As if fears over summer travel turmoil weren’t grave enough, British Airways staff members at London’s Heathrow Airport (LHR) have voted to go on strike at the peak of the summer holiday season.

Airports are already creaking under the weight of a chronic staffing shortage that has led to mammoth lines, flight delays and cancellations across the United Kingdom in recent weeks.

Now, around 700 British Airways ground and check-in staff members at Heathrow — largely based at terminals 3 and 5 — with the Unite and GMB unions have voted overwhelmingly in favor of walking out over a pay dispute; 94.7% of Unite members are in favor of going on strike as are 95% of GMB members.

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Strike dates will be announced in the coming days, according to reports, but they will likely take place in late July if the issue isn’t resolved beforehand.

“Should workers vote in favor of industrial action, strikes are expected to occur in July when demands for flights are expected to be high,” Unite previously explained.

At the heart of the dispute is anger that British Airways has refused to reverse a 10% pay cut for workers at the lower level during the pandemic, despite restoring management pay to 2019 levels.

“With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways,” Natalie Houghton, GMB’s national officer, said.

“BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10% one-off bonus payment, but this doesn’t cut the mustard,” she said. “Our members need to be reinstated the 10% they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10% bonus which other colleagues have been paid.”

“GMB members at Heathrow have suffered untold abuse as they deal with the travel chaos caused by staff shortages and IT failures,” Houghton explained. “At the same time, they’ve had their pay slashed during BA’s callous fire and rehire policy. What did BA think was going to happen?

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“It’s not too late to save the summer holidays – other BA workers have had their pay cuts reversed, do the same for ground and check-in staff and this industrial action can be nipped in the bid.”

“British Airways used the cover of COVID-19 to brutally cut members’ pay. BA has now reversed the pay cuts imposed on management but refuses to do this for our members,” Sharon Graham, Unite’s general secretary, said prior to the announcement in favor of striking. “This is disgraceful. Unite will not allow our members to be treated as a second-class workforce.”

“Our members are rightly furious and ready to take action. A strike by our members will make an immediate impact on the service to customers so I urge BA to get a grip and restore these workers’ pay immediately.”

For its part, British Airways said it was “extremely disappointed” by the decision to strike. “Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4 billion [$4.9 billion], we made an offer of a 10% payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.”

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If it goes ahead, the strike could add to the turmoil that has spawned chaotic scenes at airports up and down Britain since late May.

Recent data from Cirium showed that Heathrow Airport was the second-worst afflicted airport after London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW). (However, the 5,000 to 15,000 people hit by flight cancellations at Heathrow due to a “baggage mountain” earlier this week aren’t included in that statistic.)

A number of airlines, including British Airways and EasyJet, have canceled hundreds of flights in recent weeks. Meanwhile, TUI recently announced the cancellation of about 43 flights a week from Manchester Airport (MAN) until June 30 to prevent further problems at U.K. airports.

Additional reporting by Matt Blake.

Featured photo by Katie Genter/The Points Guy.

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