Heathrow airport is braced for ‘Easter holiday chaos’ following the announcement of strikes over a pay dispute and attempts at ‘union-busting’ at ground handling firm Vanderlande, Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union said today (Tuesday 3 March).
The strikes, which will take place over six days between 14 March and 9 April, could leave thousands of passengers without their baggage and potentially impact air travel, as well as affecting International Airline Group (IAG) freight services.
Unite represents around 80 workers at Vanderlande, which operates the Terminal Three luggage belt as well as transporting passenger baggage to and from the terminal, where planes from One World Alliance, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates dock.
Vanderlande is also responsible for loading freight on and off IAG planes, including those flying under the British Airways, Air Lingus and Iberia brands.
Unite members overwhelmingly voted (88.6 per cent) for strike action in a ballot with 90.9 per cent turnout following a breakdown in industrial relations with Vanderlande, which began after staff rejected a 2.5 per cent pay offer in August last year.
The dispute was on the verge of being resolved after talks mediated by the conciliation service Acas in October.
After increasing the pay offer to 3.2 per cent, however, Vanderlande announced it would not accept that its recognition agreement with Unite applied to employees that had recently joined the firm, who therefore would not receive the pay increase.
Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said: “Vanderlande’s transparent attempts at union-busting have bolstered our member’s determination to achieve a fair pay deal for all staff.
“Vanderlande’s strong arm tactics mean the airport now faces Easter holiday chaos and delays across March and April that will impact air travel and the movement of cargo to and from Heathrow.
“Unite urges Vanderlande to rethink its position and approach to staff and engage with the union before the strikes commence.
“It is possible to avoid a shutdown if the firm stops trying to split the workforce and tables a sensible pay offer for all our hardworking members.”
The announcement of the Vanderlande strike follows hot on the heels of strike action beginning yesterday (Monday 2 March) of workers employed by specialist baggage handling service Global Baggage Solutions, who are on strike for most of March. The workers undertake a holiday saving role of locating and repatriating lost luggage with passengers.
Strike action at Vanderlande will take place on the following dates:
Commencing at 03:00 hours on 14 March, concluding at 11:00 on 14 March
Commencing at 00:01 hours on 27 March, concluding at 23:59 on 28 March
Commencing at 00:01 hours on 3 April, concluding at 23:59 on 4 April
Commencing at 00:01 hours on 9 April, concluding at 23:59 on 9 April