British Airways (BA) workers at London Heathrow Airport voted yesterday to strike during the school summer holidays in the UK in an attempt to draw attention to their cause.
This comes at a critical time for the aviation industry as it struggles to operate under the hefty demand for travel which is only set to increase over the summer holidays.
More strikes incoming
Members of the GMB and Unite unions, trade unions which represent workers across nearly all industrial sectors, have overwhelmingly supported moving forward with industrial action over pay with a 95% turnout for the vote in total. 81% of members of the GMB union supported strikes while 63% of members of Unite the Union backed industrial action.
This decision by the unions means that more than 700 British Airways check-in staff and ground-handling agents could walk out at the peak of the summer travel season. If the strikes go ahead, BA and London Heathrow Airport could face costly financial losses and expectant travellers could face more disruptions and cancellations.
At the time of writing, no strike dates have been announced. This is because the unions wish to give the British flag carrier to change its mind on the issue at hand.
So what do BA’s workers want?
The unions, on behalf of its members, wish to reverse a 10% pay cut on workers that was imposed during the pandemic when lockdowns across the globe grounded flights and carriers were looking at ways to reduce its catastrophic losses.
British Airways offered workers a one-off 10% bonus but failed to agree to return to the same amount of pay as before.
This seems to be a common issue across airlines.
Earlier this month, Brussels Airlines pilots issued an indefinite strike notice via their unions. 90% of pilots supported industrial action in an attempt to see the 10% pay cut they agreed to in order to help the carrier through the pandemic and major restructuring issues back into their pockets. The issue of inflation across Europe has allowed for this dispute to take on a sense of urgency, especially as Brussels Airlines’ pilots have been disputing this matter since the end of 2021.
Brussels Airlines pilots and other staff are also striking due to heavy duty rosters and the lack of rest period at home between shifts.
The strike, which will take place over a period of three days, has resulted in Belgium’s largest airline cancelling over 300 flights from 23 June to 25.
Now, British Airways’ ground and check-in staff are due to strike over a similar issue.
Nadine Houghton, GMB National Officer, commented on the matter in a statement that oozed her disappointment in the airline:
“With grim predictability, holidaymakers face massive disruption thanks to the pig-headedness of British Airways […] 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?”
She concluded on a strong note, appearing to address the airline:
“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 bud.”
Unite officer Oliver Richardson added to Houghton’s comments in a similar vein:
“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 […] BA is treating its loyal workforce as second class citizens and they will not put up with it a moment longer.”
Stormy weather ahead…
If strikes do go ahead, BA will be in some trouble as those who are in support of industrial action at Heathrow make up almost 50% of the carrier’s customer-facing team at the London airport.
In a statement, British Airways stated that it was “extremely disappointed” with the decision:
“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.”
The statement concluded by reassuring customers that they will be kept updated as the situation evolves.
A spokesperson for No.10 Downing Street commented on the strikes and emphasised how much disruption it could cause the British flag carrier, the concerns around that, and urged the two parties to resolve the matter:
“DfT [Department for Transport] will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place and we expect BA to put in place contingency measures to ensure that as little disruption is caused, and that where there is disruption that passengers can be refunded.”
It seems as if Britsh Airways’ attempts to recover after the pandemic has hit yet another hurdle. From IT failures and the all-too-common issue of staff shortages and overbooking, it is likely that the carrier’s latest stumbling block may be the most damaging of them all.
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