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Threat of airport strikes ends

[August 29th 2008]

The threat of more airport strikes at Gatwick, Stansted and Manchester airports appears to have ended as baggage handlers and check in staff have accepted an improved pay offer.

Strikes had been due to take place today at Gatwick and Stansted airports, but these were called off last week after Swissport made a revised offer. Strikes that could have caused travel chaos on August Bank Holiday Monday were also called off.

Swissport workers have now accepted an improved offer of 4% for 2008-09 backdated to April 1st. In year two a nine month deal has been agreed with an increase in line with the RPI (Retail Price Index) with a minimum guarantee of 2.75% and a cap of 5%. Negotiations will be reopened if the RPI is above 5%.

“Swissport workers across the country have voted to accept this improved pay offer and we are pleased that our members did not have to resort to strike action,” says Unite union national secretary, Steve Turner.

“Unite also welcomes the introduction of national negotiations at Swissport going forward. This is a significant step forward for our members. The union has also secured similar national recognition agreements at G4F aviation and Alpha catering. Unite is beginning to reverse the trend of local bargaining in civil aviation,” Turner adds.

A strike at Stansted airport by baggage screening staff employed by Airfield Services and belonging to the GMB union was also cancelled yesterday. Union organisers have been told that new talks will take place at which an improved pay offer will be made.

However, 33 security scanning operators employed by Airfield Services did strike at Stansted airport on Bank Holiday Monday after the company declined an invitation from GMB and BAA to go to the independent conciliation service ACAS to seek a resolution to the dispute.

The GMB union claims that Airfield Services used catering staff to do the jobs of the baggage screening staff on the day of the strike. It says it is writing to the Secretary of State for Transport about the resulting lowering of security standards at Stansted.

Until Airfield Services employees accept a revised pay deal there is still the possibility of further strikes at Stansted. The workers have asked for a 5% rise but had only been offered 1.5%. Whether they will settle for less than their original demand remains to be seen.

When the 500 baggage handlers and check in staff employed by Swissport at Gatwick and Stansted airports first voted for strike action two weeks ago there was a fear that the strike could spread to other airports. The following week Swissport workers at Manchester airport voted to strike on August 27th and September 1st. Unite members employed by Swissport were also due to be balloted about strike action at Birmingham and Newcastle airports. But the threat of strikes at these airports receded after Swissport made its improved pay offer.

Had the strike by baggage handlers and check in staff gone ahead there could have been widespread disruption at UK airports. Unite said strikes at Gatwick and Stansted would have halted all baggage handling and check in operations across numerous airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, Monarch, Thomsonfly, First Choice, North West, Air Malta, Air Transat and Oman Air as well as some smaller airlines.

Earlier this year British Airways pilots threatened to strike when BA insisted that its new subsidiary airline OpenSkies should have a separate pilot workforce. A strike could have caused the cancellation of many flights and disrupted several airports in the UK.

As well as causing misery for passengers, airport strikes can also prove very expensive for airports and airlines. It is estimated that the strike threatened by BA crew in January 2007 cost British Airways about £80 million.

Fortunately airport strikes are few and far between nowadays, but when they do occur you can depend on Holiday Extras to keep you updated about all the latest developments.

Written by: Nick Purdom