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Hundreds of British Airways workers at Heathrow today voted to go on strike in a dispute that is set to ruin thousands of summer holidays and add to the airport chaos facing holidaymakers.
It is the latest pay dispute threatening to disrupt Britain as workers, the majority of them in the public sector, demand pay rises in line with inflation – now spiralling towards 11% – caused by Covid financial support and Putin’s war in Ukraine.
The earliest date the strikes could happen is early July, but the unions have not announced a timescale, possibly in the hopes of pressuring BA bosses to cave in.
Militant GMB and Unite unions have blamed ‘pig-headed’ aviation bosses for causing the wave of industrial action by imposing mass layoffs during the pandemic and cutting staff pay while airlines were struggling.
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 a full-time raise.
Heathrow has been mired in chaos since March as bosses struggle to hire enough staff amid widespread labour shortages across the UK in the wake of Covid lockdowns and financial support packages. It 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 for more pay as inflation hit 9% in May, a 40-year high. 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.
Downing Street has argued it would be ‘reckless’ to raise public sector pay in line with inflation, as ministers defended reinstating the triple pensions lock while arguing in favour of wage restraint elsewhere.
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.
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’.
Travel chiefs called the news ‘another terrible blow to the industry and customers’ that will ‘add to the already uncertain atmosphere of flight cancellations’.
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 at Heathrow voted to go on strike, it emerged today:
- 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 shared video of long queues at Heathrow. 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’
Pictured: Travellers queue at security at Heathrow Airport in London on Wednesday
Britons took to Twitter to complain about the strikes at Heathrow airport that will add to the ‘carnage’ already there
GMB’s National Officer Nadine Houghton
Ms Houghton added: ‘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.’
Calling it ‘the last thing that airports need after two years of restrictions’, travel guru Paul Charles told MailOnline: ‘The pressure is on both sides here, BA and the unions, to get round the table and hammer out a compromise so that families can enjoy a carefree summer holiday.
‘Customers are already hugely worried and uncertain about flying at the moment. They’ve seen huge numbers of flights cancelled and delayed, they will now be on the edge of their seats over this strike action. This has come at a terrible time for everyone, for the airports that need a good summer, as well as people who now face a third summer of disruption.’
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.’
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.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman stressed the Government does want to reward workers in the public sector with a pay rise, but warned against ‘chasing inflation’, which he said could lead to people’s take-home wages counting for less.
It comes as the rate of inflation rose again in May, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), remaining at 40-year highs and deepening the squeeze felt by households across the UK.
The triple lock ensures state pensions rise by the highest of inflation, pay growth or 2.5%.
Next April’s pension increase is set to be determined by the rate of inflation in September, which is currently expected to be around 10%.
But No 10 has insisted boosting public sector wages to a similar degree would further stoke mounting costs.
Asked if the Prime Minister was worried about fuelling intergenerational resentment, the spokesman said: ‘We will keep explaining to the public why we think this is the right approach, and we are confident that the public will understand that it would long term have a bigger impact on their take-home pay if we were to take actions – reckless actions – now that could spike inflation.
‘It’s important to stress that does not mean we do not want to reward public sector workers with a pay rise, we do, it’s just we must make sure that we don’t do anything that has a knock-on impact which feeds into this global inflationary spiral that there is the potential to see.’
Pressed on how he would define ‘reckless action’, he said: ‘As I’ve said a number of times this week, it involves chasing inflation with wages so that you end up having the knock-on impact of pushing inflation ever higher, and therefore meaning the pay that people do take home is worth less.
‘That’s not what the public wants, it’s not what we want, and so you need to strike a careful balance.’
Earlier, Rishi Sunak defended the Government’s plan to increase the state pension in line with inflation despite calling for pay restraint across the public sector.
The Chancellor said that unlike pay increases, a major hike in pensions would not lead to inflation in the wider economy.
He said: ‘It’s right that we reward our hard-working public sector workers with a pay rise, but that needs to be proportionate and balanced with the need not to make the inflationary pressures worse and also to see what’s affordable for the taxpayer.
‘The slight difference with pensions is that pensions are not input costs into the cost of producing goods and services that we all consume, so they don’t add to inflation in the same way.’
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab also defended the Government’s policy on pensions and public sector wages.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘They (pensioners) are particularly vulnerable and they are disproportionately affected by the increase in energy costs which we know everyone is facing.’
The Government had committed £37billion to help people cope with rising costs, he said, but ‘at the same time we have got to stop making the problem worse by fuelling pay demands that will only see inflation stay higher for longer and that only hurts the poorest the worst’.
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.
Twitter users have complained about the carnage gripping Heathrow as the aviation industry is gripped by crisis
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
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.
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
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.
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.’