UK airports chaos: Long queues at Manchester, Bristol and Birmingham amid BA Heathrow strike threat

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Britons heading abroad once again endured huge queues at UK airports this morning – with the situation only set to get worse during the summer holidays after British Airways staff based at London Heathrow voted to strike.

More than 1,200 Heathrow check-in and ground-handling staff voted for industrial action yesterday in a row over pay. The GMB and Unite unions are expected to set strike dates for around July 22, when the school break begins.

They vowed only to call off the action if BA meets their demands within a week or so. If the BA walkouts go ahead, families could be forced to delay or cancel holidays – and face being stuck abroad if flights home are axed. 

Unions only have to give two weeks’ notice of strikes. Customers whose flights are grounded will be entitled to receive a refund or be rebooked on an alternative flight on their day of departure, even if it is with a rival carrier.

But with airlines cutting their schedules due to staff shortages and airport flight caps, it is unclear whether there would be enough seats. It will inflict a huge financial blow on BA, which lost billions of pounds in the pandemic.

Some 550 BA flights a day take off and land at Heathrow, but this is expected to rise in the summer – and the airline is now drawing up emergency plans to keep as many flights as possible on strike days. Around half of these are short haul and the other half longer distance – and the action threatens to ground hundreds of flights in total.

It comes as passengers faced big queues at Bristol, Manchester and Birmingham airports once again today – with one at the latter tweeting this morning: ‘Congratulations Birmingham Airport, you now have a queue that folds three lengths of the airport! Second time this week you have failed your #SLAs [service level agreements].’ 

MANCHESTER AIRPORT - Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

BRISTOL AIRPORT- Once again holidaymakers flying from Bristol Airport experience lengthy queues before 4.30am today

BRISTOL AIRPORT- Once again holidaymakers flying from Bristol Airport experience lengthy queues before 4.30am today

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT - Huge queues to get into Birmingham Airport this morning as Britons head abroad on holidays

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT – Huge queues to get into Birmingham Airport this morning as Britons head abroad on holidays

MANCHESTER AIRPORT - Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

BRISTOL AIRPORT- Two holidaymakers sleep on chairs at Bristol Airport today as the airport chaos continues in Britain

The dispute is over a 10 per cent pay cut which check-in and ground-handling staff took during Covid as airlines tried to stay afloat. Unions want full pay reinstated amid cost of living pressure and surging passenger numbers.

Staff say senior managers have had their full pay restored. BA offered a one-off 10 per cent bonus, but this was refused. Talks between officials on both sides continued yesterday. 

Train service disruption continues after strike

Train services will continue to be disrupted today because of a deadlocked dispute over jobs, pay and conditions – which has caused travel chaos all week.

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail and 13 train operators went on strike on Tuesday and yesterday, with a third walkout planned tomorrow.

The disruption will continue today, with only 60 per cent of trains running, mainly because of a delay to the start of services as signallers and control room staff will not turn up for overnight shifts.

Members of the drivers’ union Aslef on Greater Anglia walked out on Thursday in a separate dispute over pay.

The Transport Salaried Staffs Association is balloting hundreds of its members at Network Rail and several train companies for strikes.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said: ‘Our members are leading the way in standing up for all working people trying to get a pay rise and some job security.

‘In a modern economy workers need to be properly rewarded for their work, enjoy good conditions and have the peace of mind that their job will not be taken away from them. Grant Shapps (Transport Secretary) needs to get in the room or get out of the way so we can negotiate with these companies who we have successfully struck dozens of deals with previously.

‘What we cannot accept is thousands of railway workers being thrown on the scrapheap after being praised as heroes during Covid. RMT will continue its industrial campaign until a negotiated settlement is reached.’

Talks have been held throughout the week, but there is little sign of a breakthrough.

Speaking on the BBC’s Question Time, Mr Lynch said: ‘The companies have told me face-to-face they could achieve a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies’, but added they ‘are not being allowed to’.

‘They won’t write it down on a piece of paper and give it to us as a commitment,’ he said, to which Conservative MP Rachel Maclean replied: ‘No organisation can give that guarantee’.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson branded the strikes a ‘terrible idea’ and insisted there is ‘no point’ having railways that are ‘so uneconomic’ that ticket prices are prohibitive to passengers. He also defended dealing public sector workers real-term pay cuts while giving pensioners rises in line with soaring inflation.

Speaking to reporters travelling with him in Rwanda, he said: ‘We’ve got to make the railways run economically for the very benefit of the railway workers themselves and their families. There’s no point having a railway system in this country that’s so uneconomic that you keep having to put ticket prices up and you have to drive more and more people off the railways. You can’t go on with practices like walking time, with ticket offices that sell very few tickets. You need to modernise.’

The statutory instruments (SI) set to change the law to enable businesses to supply skilled agency workers to plug staffing gaps during industrial action will be laid on Friday and Monday, Downing Street has said.

It is the latest blow for an industry which has struggled to ramp up operations as passenger numbers recover.

After carriers slashed thousands of jobs during the pandemic, hundreds of flights have been delayed or cancelled, huge queues have formed at airports and travellers have been forced to wait four hours or more for luggage.

The problems have largely been due to staff shortages after carriers slashed thousands of jobs during the pandemic.

Nadine Houghton, GMB national officer, 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.

‘Our members need to be reinstated the 10 per cent they had stolen from them last year with full back pay and the 10 per cent 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 bud.’

She also told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme yesterday: ‘I would imagine there will be action during the summer holidays’.

Asked if she would book a flight in late July, August or early September, she replied: ‘Not at this stage’.

She said the union’s members have faced a 10 per cent pay cut as a result of BA’s ‘unethical approach during the pandemic’.

‘They want that pay to be reinstated,’ she added.

Members of the GMB voted by 91 per cent in favour of industrial action while Unite said 94 per cent of its members backed action.

Unite national officer for aviation Oliver Richardson 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 per cent 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.’

The GMB said it has also started a consultative ballot with thousands more BA workers, including engineers and call-centre workers.

A formal ballot for strike action will begin in a few weeks if enough support is registered.

It raises the prospect of summer disruption on an even bigger scale, as it includes workers at Gatwick airport as well as Heathrow.

MANCHESTER AIRPORT - Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons queue for security at Birmingham Airport early this morning as they head abroad on holiday

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons queue for security at Birmingham Airport early this morning as they head abroad on holiday

MANCHESTER AIRPORT - Huge queues are seen again for check-in at Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 early this morning

MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Huge queues are seen again for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 early this morning

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons hoping to go away on holiday this morning once again face huge queues at Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons hoping to go away on holiday this morning once again face huge queues at Birmingham

MANCHESTER AIRPORT - Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport's Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

MANCHESTER AIRPORT – Passengers queue for check-in at Manchester Airport’s Terminal 2 today as airport chaos continues

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons queue to get into Birmingham Airport early this morning as they go abroad on holiday

BIRMINGHAM AIRPORT: Britons queue to get into Birmingham Airport early this morning as they go abroad on holiday

The separate row is over demands for a pay rise in line with inflation.

Changing law over agency workers during strikes ‘will not work’, says recruitment expert

Changing the law to allow firms to hire agency workers to replace staff on strike during industrial disputes will not work, the head of the UK’s recruitment body has warned.

Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), said changes announced by the Government on Thursday were being made with no consultation with agencies and agency workers.

‘It is not something agencies want, and will not achieve the goals the Government claims,’ he said.

Ministers pointed out that under current trade union laws, employment businesses are restricted from supplying temporary agency workers to cover for strikers, saying it can have a ‘disproportionate impact’.

The legislation will repeal the ‘burdensome’ legal restrictions, giving businesses impacted by strike action the freedom to tap into the services of employment businesses that can provide skilled, temporary agency staff at short notice, said the Government.

Mr Carberry said: ‘This is a fundamental change to the regulations that govern recruitment businesses, and the industry is strongly opposed to it – it is not a pro-business move. We urge Government to drop their plans and think again. In practice, this change in legislation will not work. Inserting agency workers into strikes will only lengthen disputes.

‘It will also not provide the workers that Government wants, and it puts agencies and agency workers in a very difficult position, with potential health and safety and reputational risks to consider. Agency workers are in high demand, and most will not choose a job that forces them to cross a picket line over another where they do not have to.’

Unions and opposition parties have strongly criticised the announcement.

Joanne Galbraith-Marten, director of employment relations and legal services at the Royal College of Nursing, said: ‘This change would be undemocratic and unsafe. Any industrial action by our members is very carefully planned to keep patients safe already – bringing in less qualified or agency workers instead could put patients at risk.

‘Health professionals face the most draconian anti-trade union laws. The Government curtails their right to be heard because it knows it is failing them. Silencing health workers silences the patient voice too. Any attempts to further limit workers’ rights to challenge their unfair treatment will be strongly resisted.’

The announcement was made as thousands of rail workers staged their second strike of the week in a bitter dispute over jobs, pay and conditions, which led to four out of five trains being cancelled.

Subject to parliamentary approval, the changes are made through statutory instruments and are set to come into force over the coming weeks and will apply across England, Scotland and Wales.

One statutory instrument on maximum damages courts can be awarded if strikes are found to have been unlawful will be laid on Friday, while a second regarding agency workers will be laid on Monday, according to Downing Street.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘The SI that we’re laying on Monday … we’re hoping will come in force, if Parliament agree it, within weeks, so it wouldn’t have an impact on this week’s action.’

Downing Street said strike action would add to passengers’ ‘misery’ at airports and called for BA to put contingency measures in place.

A No 10 spokesman said: ‘This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions and we would strongly encourage both to come together to find a settlement.

‘We don’t want to see any further disruption for passengers and strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers at airports.

‘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’.

A BA statement 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 £4billion, we made an offer of a 10 per cent 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.’

It will compound fears that Britain is facing a summer of strikes as unions representing other professions also flex their muscles in pursuit of inflation-busting pay rises.

The National Education Union has 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 of 5 per cent above inflation – which this week hit 9.1 per cent.

A Government aide said the official independent pay review bodies were expected to recommend rises for public sector workers of up to 5 per cent ‘in at least some cases’, the Financial Times reported. These pay increases will have to come from existing budgets.

It came as the boss of the TSSA rail union, Manuel Cortes, said his union could team up with the militant RMT during the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham next month to ensure ‘there’ll be no trains running at all’. 

Yesterday Mr Cortes said his union, which is balloting staff at Network Rail and nine train operators, could plot walkouts with the RMT to hit the Commonwealth Games, which begins on July 28.

Asked if the 10-day event, which England last hosted in 2002, will be targeted, he said: ‘That’s clearly a possibility, I rule absolutely nothing out.

‘It’s not inconceivable we will walk out at the same time. And I’m absolutely certain that if our members strike along with the RMT, there’ll be no trains running at all.

‘We’re probably heading towards the biggest strike wave on the railways since 1926.’

Like the RMT, the union is in dispute with Network Rail and train companies over pay and job security.

RMT workers will walk out again for 24 hours tomorrow having already gone on strike yesterday and Tuesday. 

There are fears the union could call another round of strikes as early as July 9.

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