Heathrow airport faces disruption from strikes this summer, as hundreds of check-in and ground staff voted in favour of walkouts during the peak holiday period in a dispute with British Airways over pay.
The GMB and Unite unions balloted about 700 workers employed by BA on industrial action. About half of the workers are represented by the GMB, and 95% of those who voted said they were prepared to strike on a turnout of more than 80%. Strike dates will be confirmed in the coming days, but they are likely to be during the school holidays. The Unite ballot closes on Monday.
The dispute stems from BA using “fire and rehire” practices to cut workers’ pay during the pandemic when they could not fight back, the GMB union said.
“All our members are asking for – and these are primarily low-paid women – is for BA to reinstate the 10% taken from them during the pandemic,” a GMB spokesperson said.
BA said: “We’re extremely disappointed with the result and that the unions have chosen to take this course of action. Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4bn, we made an offer of a 10% payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues.
“We are fully committed to work together to find a solution, because to deliver for our customers and rebuild our business we have to work as a team. We will of course keep our customers updated about what this means for them as the situation evolves.”
GMB said while BA was offering a 10% one-off bonus for this year, the union is demanding that the 10% pay cut imposed on workers during the pandemic be reversed permanently.
The union also pointed out that bosses’ pay had returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the chief executive of BA’s parent company IAG, Luis Gallego, is in line for a £4.9m payout this year if he hits all his targets.
His pay package prompted a sizeable shareholder revolt last week, with more than a quarter of investors failing to back it. IAG faced down a rebellion at its annual meeting in Madrid where 17.8% of investors voted against the the controversial pay policy, and 7.8% abstained. Investment advisers Glass Lewis and ISS described the pay plan as “excessive”.
Nadine Houghton, a GMB national officer, said: “With grim predictability, holiday makers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways.
“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. 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? 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.”
The strike vote comes as Heathrow airport revised up its forecasts for passenger numbers in 2022. About 20.1 million people travelled through Heathrow between January and May, and the airport said it had seen a steady traffic increase this year following an “extremely challenging two years”.
The stronger than expected demand prompted it to raise its forecast for this year to 54.4 million passengers – 67% of 2019 levels – up from its December estimate of 45.5 million passengers.
Heathrow now expects adjusted profits to rise 257% from last year to £1.4bn, with revenues forecast to more than double to £2.6bn.
Thousands of BA engineers, at Heathrow, Gatwick and in Scotland, along with call centre staff in Newcastle and Manchester, are conducting consultative ballots for possible industrial action in a separate dispute over pay.