Thousands of Heathrow airport staff to strike in ‘summer of strife’


Thousands of security staff at London’s Heathrow airport will stage a month’s worth of strike action this summer in a continuing pay dispute with its owners, putting at risk holidaymakers’ plans on some of the busiest days of the year for travelling.

Unite the union said on Wednesday that 2,000 of its members, about 40 per cent of all security workers at the UK’s hub airport, would walk out on 31 days from June 24 in a “summer of strife”.

The strikes will cover most weekends between June 24 and the end of August as well as some extended stoppages, including action for 96 hours from July 21, when most schools in England close for summer.

Some 7.75mn passengers passed through Heathrow in July 2019, the last summer before the start of Covid-related disruption.

Staff at Terminal 3, which serves airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Qatar Airways, will join picket lines for the first time since the dispute over pay began in March this year.

They will join two groups of employees who participated in previous strikes — workers at Terminal 5, which serves national carrier British Airways, and “campus security” staff, who supervise movements between the airport’s air side and land side.

The two groups walked out in late May, during the busy half-term holiday period for English schools, and in March, as part of a big wave of strikes by public and private sector workers amid the cost of living crisis.

Wayne King, regional co-ordinating officer for Unite, warned that the stoppages would make flight delays, disruption and cancellations “inevitable”.

He said the airport had been given “numerous opportunities to make an offer [on pay] that meets our members’ expectations” but “stubbornly refused” to take them.

Heathrow is offering a 10.1 per cent rise, but Unite has dismissed that as below the rate of retail price inflation, its preferred measure, now at 11.4 per cent. Consumer price inflation, a more widely used measure, is running at 8.7 per cent.

The airport said it was offering workers an above-inflation pay increase and that passengers could “rest assured” it would seek to minimise disruption.

“Unite has already tried and failed to disrupt the airport with unnecessary strikes on some of our busiest days and we continue to build our plans to protect journeys during any future action,” it said.

The employer insisted it was offering an above-inflation pay rise.

“There is a two-year inflation-beating pay rise ready for colleagues, if only Unite would allow them to have a say,” it said.

British Airways said that, like other airlines, it was working with Heathrow to ensure “robust contingency plans” were in place.

The dispute marks the latest challenge to efforts by Heathrow to return operations to normal following the coronavirus pandemic. Passengers criticised the airport last summer after it capped the number of flights that airlines could operate to relieve pressure on its systems amid staff shortages.