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Could an airport strike ground your half-term holiday plans?

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Written by: Emma Lunn
31/01/2022
Passengers booked on half-term breaks and skiing trips from Heathrow could be set for severe delays due to a ground staff pay row.

Staff at ground handling and refuelling company Menzies Aviation are threatening industrial action in a ‘fire and rehire’ row.

Four hundred workers, who are members of union Unite, plan to strike for three from 00.01 on Friday 11 February to 23:59 on Sunday 13 February.

Unite says tensions have been ‘greatly heightened’ as a result of Menzies firing and rehiring hundreds of its workers at the peak of the pandemic, which resulted in them experiencing huge pay cuts. In the most extreme cases workers saw pay rates fall by £9,000 a year.

Union says Menzies has refused to enter into ‘meaningful negotiations’ for outstanding pay increases for both 2020 and 2021. This is in sharp contrast to Menzies’ competitors including Swissport, Cobalt, GH London and dnata, who have agreed pay increases for their workers.

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Menzies cynically used the cover of the pandemic to fire and rehire its workers to boost long-term profits and it is now refusing to even consider a pay rise. Given the appalling treatment Menzies workers have received from their employer it is little surprise that they felt they had no option but to take strike action.

“Bad employers need to be aware that Unite is wholly committed to defending and protecting the pay and conditions of its members. Unite’s members at Menzies will receive the union’s full and complete support until this dispute is resolved.”

The Menzies workers are split between two main functions. One group provides ground handling and passenger services for a host of airlines including: American, Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, China airlines, Air Canada, Germanwings, Croatian, Icelandair, Finnair, Aer Lingus, Egyptair, Qantas and Loganair.

The other group is responsible for refuelling for British Airways and a joint venture operation with Shell/Exxon and Mobil.

Unite says the strikes will inevitably cause disruption and delays, with a domino effect expected to occur with the disruption to the airport increasing the longer the strikes continue.

Kevin Hall, Unite regional officer, said: “The strike action will inevitably cause severe disruption and delays throughout Heathrow but it is taken as a last resort and is entirely of Menzies’ own making.

“Even at this late stage, Menzies could avoid causing huge disruption at Heathrow next month by making a decent pay offer to its workers and returning to the negotiating table.”

Phil Lloyd, senior vice president UK at Menzies Aviation, said: “We are very disappointed that Unite are choosing to pursue this course of action at a time when everyone in the industry is attempting to rebuild consumer confidence and safeguard employment by restoring flight schedules.

“Out of our total workforce of c.1,700 people only 146 voted for strike action. As a result, we are very confident that there will be no disruption to our airline customers or travellers should industrial action go ahead. We are very empathetic to the cost of living increases our entire team are experiencing and have been having meaningful discussions with the GMB on the issue and we would like to have the same open and transparent discussions with Unite as we have done at many other UK airports where we operate.

“We have a meeting scheduled with Unite today and we do hope that an amicable solution can be found.”

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