The likelihood of industrial action at Heathrow airport is increasing after Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union, began consulting members on proposals by the employer to cut pay by nearly a quarter for some workers.
The union is accusing Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) of pursuing a ‘greed, not need’ approach to the workforce. In June, HAL announced its intention to make swingeing cuts to pay, cut allowances and close the final salary pension scheme.
Through extensive negotiations with the employer Unite has attempted to reverse many of the proposals but with HAL unwilling to consider further measures, Unite, which represents over 4,000 directly employed workers at the airport, will recommend to the workforce that when the proposals are put to them that they are rejected.
Unite’s officials claim that HAL has threatened to issue section 188 notices, which would result in staff being fired and re-hired on the inferior contracts, in an effort to `bounce’ the workforce into hasty acceptance of the new contracts.
Some workers are set to lose over £8,000 a year on basic pay a cut of 24 per cent and all workers will receive a cut to pay and allowances. Unite fears that many members will be unable to maintain their mortgages as a result.
If the proposals are rejected by members, Unite says it will consider all options to defend their interests.
Unite believes that the airport is using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to achieve its long-held ambition to cut pay in order to increase profits in the long-term.
At the beginning of the pandemic the airport announced it had a war chest of £3.2 billion and could survive without a flight leaving for a year. HAL also paid a £100 million dividend to shareholders, which includes the Qatari royal family.
Unite has proposed that any pay cuts should be of a temporary nature, but such suggestions have been firmly rejected.
Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said: “HAL is cynically using Covid-19 to bounce workers into accepting drastic attacks on their pay in order to boost boardroom profits:”This is pure greed, not need.Unite has made proposals that pay cuts should be temporary but Heathrow has rejected this out of hand.
“The pay cuts faced by our members mean that many could lose their homes.
“If as expected Unite members reject these huge pay cuts we will take whatever steps needed to protect our members’ pay.
He added: “HAL is acting like a tin-pot dictator, threatening to hire and fire the very workers who have dedicated their lives to serving passengers at the airport.
“Unite is urging HAL to withdraw these massive pay cuts and return to the negotiating table where Unite is committed to discussing fair cost reductions.
“We recognise that there challenges for this industry as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic but forcing the workforce onto the breadline is not the responsible or necessary answer to this crisis.”
Over 800 workers left Heathrow airport as part of a voluntary severance scheme at the end of last month.
The news about the proposed pay cuts at Heathrow coincides with a demonstration at the airport about the government’s failure to support the aviation sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.