Hundreds of British Airways workers at Heathrow today voted to go on strike in a pay dispute that has now ruined summer holidays for thousands of families.
The militant GMB and Unite unions have blamed ‘pig-headed’ aviation bosses for causing the wave of industrial action by imposing mass layoffs during the Covid lockdown, as negotiations over pay acrimoniously descended into mudslinging today.
BA said that the unions had rejected a 10% pay offer in favour of walkouts as early as next month, potentially during the school holidays. However, union barons claim the airline’s offer was a one-time ‘bonus’ and its members want the full salary returned.
Heathrow, Britain’s biggest airport has been mired in chaos since March after huge numbers of staff in security, airport traffic control and baggage handling were fired during the pandemic. The west London hub has failed to manage a ‘baggage crisis’ which has seen huge numbers of luggage pile up outside Terminal 2. Flyers who have lost their luggage have complained on social media that they have been forced to wait a week to be reunited with their bags.
The vote raises fears of a ‘summer of discontent’ that could see teachers, NHS staff and civil servants go on strike as inflation hit a 40-year high of 9%. It comes as Mick Lynch’s RMT union this week unleashed a series of mass walkouts that have brought the UK’s rail lines to a juddering halt.
In a statement, BA said it is ‘extremely disappointed’ that the unions ‘have chosen to take this course of action’ and vowed to ‘work together to find a solution’.
Members of the GMB voted by 91% in favour of industrial action while Unite said 94% of its members backed action, the unions said.
GMB’s National Officer Nadine Houghton, who ran as a Labour candidate in 2019, said: ‘With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways. BA have tried to offer our members crumbs from the table in the form of a 10 per cent one off bonus payment, but this doesn’t cut the mustard.
‘Our members need to be reinstated the 10 per cent they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10% bonus which other colleagues have been paid. What did BA think was going to happen? 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.’
Unite officer Russ Ball said: ‘The problems British Airways is facing are entirely of its own making. It brutally cut jobs and pay during the pandemic even though the Government was paying them to save jobs.
‘In the case of this dispute, they have insulted this workforce, slashing pay by 10% only to restore it to managers but not to our members. BA is treating its loyal workforce as second class citizens and they will not put up with it a moment longer. Strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption to BA’s services at Heathrow. The company has a short window of opportunity to reinstate our members’ pay before strikes are called. I urge BA not to squander that opportunity.’
Ministers fear Britain could face a summer of strikes as unions flex their muscles in pursuit of inflation-busting pay rises.
The National Education Union yesterday warned that schools could be next in line for strike action unless ministers stump up ‘inflation-plus pay increases for all teachers’. Unions representing doctors, nurses, civil servants and postal workers are also threatening industrial action over pay. Some have even demanded settlements 5% above inflation – which yesterday hit 9.1%.
It comes as the Government plots to rush forward new laws today which end the ban on using agency workers to break strikes.
As BA staff voted to go on strike, it emerged today:
- Speaking from Rwanda, Boris Johnson called the train strikes ‘unnecessary’ and a ‘terrible idea’, and stressed the benefits of ‘sensible reforms’ of the rail system;
- Teachers have threatened to go on strike this autumn if their pay demands are not met. Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said such a move would be ‘unforgivable’, particularly after the disruption of the Covid lockdown;
- The Transport Salaried Staffs Association (TSSA) announced that its workers are to vote on strikes next month – so the earliest that industrial action could be taken is July 27;
- Meanwhile the GMB union is today set to announce the results of a strike ballot of BA check-in and ground staff at Heathrow Airport for later this year. The move would ruin the summer holiday plans of millions of families;
- And the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents postal workers, could be among the next group of workers to strike for higher pay;
- Ministers will rush forward new anti-strike laws today as militant rail unions inflict misery on millions of travellers again;
- Keir Starmer’s authority is being tested after more Labour MPs today defied the party whips and joined picket lines with striking RMT members.
Travellers queue at security at Heathrow Airport in London, Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Social media users also shared video of long queues at Heathrow today. One wrote: ‘Joining the inevitable chorus of travellers tweeting about, you guessed it, Heathrow queues. This is the queue just to get to security. The staff are being brilliant, though.’
A huge ‘carpet’ of luggage (pictured) has built up outside Heathrow Terminal 2 following a ‘technical glitch’ last Friday. Today some travellers took to social media to claim that they had not had their bag returned in ‘seven days’
People face travelling disruption and long queues at airports amid the industry’s ongoing staffing crisis. After two years of pandemic restrictions, travel demand is back with a vengeance but airlines and airports that slashed jobs during the depths of the COVID-19 crisis are struggling to keep up. Pictured: Travellers queue at security at Heathrow Airport in London, Wednesday
Britons took to Twitter to complain about the strikes at Heathrow airport that will add to the ‘carnage’ already there
Today GMB’s National Officer, Nadine Houghton (pictured), who ran as a Labour candidate in 2019, was asked if the strikes could be timed during the school holidays. She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Look, we still need to meet with the strike committee, we need to review where we are in terms of dates but yes absolutely, this could impact on the summer holidays, but the blame for this must be squarely put at the door of BA.’
BA, in response, said following the lifting of Covid travel restrictions staff were offered a 10 per cent payment for this year which was rejected.
However, Ms Houghton replied: ‘Unfortunately that is just not accurate. What they were offered was a 10 per cent one-off bonus payment and what are members are actually fighting for is the 10 per cent of consolidated pay which obviously goes on their pension, it is what they see year on year in any further pay increases – it is the pay they cut from them during the pandemic.
‘You have to remember these workers are on the front line of the aviation crisis and if BA want to return to profitability, if they want to be a successful airline, they need to get their staff on board, they need to rebuild the trust that they so deeply damaged as a result of their actions during the pandemic.
‘Yes there has been financial issues with the airline, obviously they have been hit by the pandemic. They’ve also been saddled with a huge amount of debt by their parent company and they were also very profitable before the pandemic and were able to pay out £1.6billion in dividends in the pandemic.’
Speaking earlier this month, Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: ‘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.
‘British Airways used the cover of Covid to brutally cut members’ pay. BA has now reversed the pay cuts imposed on management but refuses to do this for our members. This is disgraceful. Unite will not allow our members to be treated as a second-class workforce.’
A spokesperson for BA told MailOnline: ‘After a deeply difficult two years which saw the business lose more than four billion pounds, these colleagues were offered a 10 per cent payment for this year which was rejected.
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‘We remain fully committed to talks with our trade unions about their concerns and we hope that together we can find a way to reach an agreement in the best interests of our people and our customers.’
It comes as video from Manchester Airport shows long queues snaking around one of the terminal today.
The video was posted by golfer James Robinson. Sharing a video showing the queues, the PGA golfer and social media star said: ‘Good to see Terminal 2 is coping well…’.
Social media users also shared video of long queues at Heathrow today: One wrote: ‘Joining the inevitable chorus of travellers tweeting about, you guessed it, Heathrow queues. This is the queue just to get to security. The staff are being brilliant, though.’
Meanwhile, baggage chaos continues at Heathrow today. A huge ‘carpet’ of baggage built up outside Terminal 2 since it was hit by a ‘technical glitch’ last Friday.
The airport says that airlines, and not the airport, are responsible for baggage and has apologised to inconvenienced passengers.
Today social media users took to Twitter to complain that they had yet to receive their bag six days after flying into Heathrow.
One social media user wrote: ‘Hi Heathrow. It’s been 6th day now since you lost my baggage. I need details, who is tracking my lost two bags and where are they now? And when will I get them back?’
Another wrote: ‘Still waiting for my four bags. It has been seven days now. Heathrow and Indian Airlines – Thanks for the worst services.’
It comes as passengers at Manchester Airport have been left stranded after a two-hour wait to unload their bags from the plane.
Travellers battled huge check-in queues at the airport yesterday morning, and said they did not receive their bags for over two hours despite being the ‘only plane to land in T1’ during that time period.
Ministers have announced last minute plans to help prevent summer travel chaos as holidaymakers continue to be caught up in airport mayhem.
On Monday they announced plans to relax rules which currently force airlines to fly a certain number of planes or risk losing valuable landing slots.
New regulations were laid before Parliament aimed at helping carriers avoid making last-minute cancellations and causing mayhem in the airports.
They will allow a one-off ‘amnesty’ on landing slots, meaning airlines can pull flights from their schedules ahead of the peak summer season without the risk of losing them long-term.
Thousands of passengers have had their flights and travel plans disrupted after weeks of cancellations and huge queues due to staff shortages.
Holidaymakers have also been caught up in Heathrow’s luggage chaos, with dozens of bags being dumped by staff outside of the baggage carousels.
Ministers have announced that they will be relaxing rules around plane landing slots in a bid to prevent summer travel chaos. Pictured: Dozens of passengers were forced to queue for hours at Manchester Airport this morning amid the ongoing airport mayhem
Passengers at Heathrow Airport witness luggage being dumped int he terminals next to the baggage carousels today. It comes just days after the airports Terminal 2 luggage system suffered a failure and left bags to pile up
New regulations were laid before Parliament aimed at helping carriers avoid making last-minute cancellations and causing mayhem in the airports. Airlines will no longer have to fulfil a certain number of flights in order to retain a spot
One traveller said: ‘At Heathrow terminal 3 for 2 hours now in the same immigration line. Two officers managing 500+ passengers.. absolute madness.’
Another said: ‘My aunt has been queuing at Heathrow Airport Terminal 3 immigration for just under four hours.
‘There are two desks open. Is this country ok?’
It comes after thousands of passengers were left without their luggage after the baggage system in Terminal 2 faced a ‘technical issue’ on Friday.
Hundreds of bags were heaped in piles across the terminal without and staff around to sort through them.
Passengers reportedly waited hours for their bags while some had to leave without getting them back at all.
One posted online: ‘I flew from Heathrow Airport on Sunday morning to Lisbon and still have no bag here.
‘Absolute mess. Even if it arrives (unlikely) I really don’t want to check it in for the return journey!’
A Heathrow spokeswoman said: ‘We apologise unreservedly for the technical issues with our baggage systems that impacted passengers over the weekend.
‘We are working around the clock with airlines to reunite passengers with their bags.
‘For the latest information regarding individual bags, we ask that passengers check with their airline.’
Passengers travelling from Stansted Airport have been forced to sleep on the floor, before staff ‘scream’ at them to get up.
One traveller said: ‘Complete chaos in Stansted Airport every single night.
‘People sleeping all over the check arrivals gate missing flights and being stranded without bags or any taxis to go home.
‘Airport workers screaming at people to get up. Horrible situation and horrible third world country.’
Thousands of flights have been cancelled by British Airways, easyJet, TUI and Wizz Air, with some being axed at the last-minute, leaving thousands of passengers in the lurch and creating carnage at airports.
Holidaymakers at Stansted Airport have been forced to sleep on the floor overnight after missing flights because of huge check-in queues. Passengers also claim that airport staff ‘scream’ at them to move despite being stranded
Passengers at Heathrow Terminal 3 today also complained of being in immigration queues for up to two hours today as they tried to board their flights
Passengers at Manchester Airport were left waiting for hours in the busy check-in desks. Further airport chaos is expected after easyJet announced a further 100,000 cancellations
On Monday easyJet announced it would be axing more than 10,000 flights from its July-September schedule after coming under fire from thousands of customers who suffered last-minute cancellations.
Heathrow apologises to family left without baggage containing medication
Scott McKechnie was left fuming after a baggage blunder at the London airport meant his family haven’t had any belongings since Friday.
The 30-year-old international cricketer, from Salford, Manchester, touched down in Mauritius to be told all suitcases were over 6,000 miles away in the UK.
Scott, alongside his six other family members, have been wearing resort merchandise and forced to buy thousands of pounds worth of new clothing.
The family booked the holiday following the death of two close family members, and claim the airport has lost vital medication as well as belongings.
He said: ‘It’s dangerous. Any medical professional would tell you that when you’re on a regular medicine you can’t just go cold turkey overnight.
‘It’s really damaging to people’s health – physical, mental and everything in between.
‘Aside from the medication and the health risks that’s put upon people, we’ve also lost thousands and thousands of pounds worth of luggage.
‘We’re physically, mentally and financially out of pocket.’
A spokesman for Heathrow Airport said: ‘We apologise unreservedly for the technical issues with our baggage systems that impacted passengers over the weekend.
‘We continue to work around the clock with airlines to reunite passengers with their bags.
‘For the latest information regarding individual bags, we ask that passengers check with their airline.’
Announcing the landing slots move on Monday night, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: ‘It’s crucial they don’t face disappointing last-minute cancellations and chaos at airports when the system can’t deliver, and I will do everything in my power to stop that.
‘Today’s announcement aims to help airlines provide certainty to passengers and ensure the next few months are as smooth as possible.’
Aviation minister Robert Courts added: ‘We cannot have a situation where passengers arrive at the airport just to have their flight cancelled or face long delays.’
Landing slots are like parking spaces for planes and are used to manage capacity at the busiest airports.
A slot gives permission to use the full range of airport infrastructure necessary to operate an aircraft and are highly valuable commercial assets.
Airlines must use slots a certain amount of times – currently 70 per cent of the time – each season in order to keep them.
Tim Alderslade, CEO of Airlines UK, said: ‘This is a welcome step which will help build greater resilience into operations this summer, coming on top of measures already taken by the sector.
‘We will continue to work with ministers and the whole aviation eco-system to ensure the summer peak runs as smoothly as possible for our passengers.’
Passengers across Britain have been warned that they should brace for a ‘less than satisfactory’ experience while travelling in the next few months.
Ryanair’s boss yesterday warned that chaos at Britain’s big airports will continue ‘right throughout the summer’ amid scenes of mayhem at Manchester and Heathrow.
Michael O’Leary has claimed that the Government’s Covid lockdowns and general ‘mismanagement’ forced airport chiefs to impose mass layoffs which caused the staffing shortages now plaguing air traffic control, baggage handling and security.
‘This problem is going to continue particularly at airports like Gatwick and Heathrow right throughout the summer. It will be worse at weekends and better during the week,’ he told Sky News.
Mr O’Leary said that 25 per cent of Ryanair flights last weekend were delayed by air traffic control issues, and a further 15 per cent by airports handling delays.
He added that Brexit was compounding the disruption caused as demand ramps up after pandemic restrictions were lifted, with airports unable to hire workers from abroad to fill posts.
Heathrow and Gatwick have urged airlines to cancel thousands of flights this summer as they fight to regain control, while easyJet started axing 10,000 flights to European holiday hotspots including Greece, Italy and Spain from July through to September.
Passengers at Stansted Airport today slept on the floor as they awaited updates on the their flight delays
Transport Minister Grant Schapps said it was ‘crucial’ that holidaymakers are not left stranded when the systems can’t deliver. He pledged to do everything he could to help stop the chaos ahead of summer travels. Pictured: Passengers at Heathrow Airport this morning
Ryanair’s boss yesterday warned that chaos at Britain’s big airports will continue ‘right throughout the summer’ amid scenes of mayhem at Manchester and Heathrow
In another blow to travellers, easyJet’s Spain-based cabin crew will go on strike for nine days in July if their demands for higher pay from the budget airline are not met.
Workers will walk out on July 1-3, 15-17, and 29-31, potentially adding to travel woes as the sector struggles to cope with rebounding demand.
The airline’s flight attendants in Spain are demanding a 40 per cent increase in their basic salaries, according to union USO.
The announcement comes as passengers continue to face chaos at UK airports, as understaffed airports struggle to cope.
EasyJet has announced it would be cutting an estimated 11,000 flights from its summer schedules, which analysts think will cost the company between £100 million and £200 million this year.
It comes after the former boss of British Airways said Heathrow is ‘not capable of delivering the basic product they are due to deliver’.
Willie Walsh said of Heathrow, Schiphol in Amsterdam and Dublin: ‘It is interesting that the three airports I mention in terms of significant charging increases are also the three that have experienced the most disruption in recent weeks.
‘It really does lead you to question the management executives of these airports that are not even capable of delivering the basic product they produce. I will continue to call on these airports to get their acts in order.’