Heathrow airport could be hit by strikes this summer, as 700 check-in and ground staff vote on whether to walk out during the peak holiday period in a dispute with British Airways over pay.
As a second day of national rail strikes is under way, 700 workers employed by BA are being balloted on industrial action by unions including GMB and Unite, with the result of the vote expected on Thursday afternoon. The Unite ballot closes on Monday. If they vote for strike action, it would be “likely during school holidays”, a GMB spokesperson said.
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 responded by saying: “After a deeply difficult two years which saw the business lose more than £4bn, these colleagues were offered a 10% payment for this year which was rejected.
“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.”
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, has said: “British Airways faces a gruelling summer of travel chaos if they won’t give these workers what’s rightfully theirs.”
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.