Heathrow workers have voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in December against pay cuts for 4,000 staff, reports Yonas Makoni
Workers at Heathrow Airport Ltd. have voted 85% in favour of industrial action over the airport’s controversial fire and rehire plans, Unite announced Monday. There will be two 24-hour strikes on 1 December and 14 December, and a 48-hour strike on 17-18 December.
Heathrow had previously boasted that it had a ‘war chest’ of £3.2 billion, enough to keep operational for at least 15 months ‘even if we had no passengers’. Despite this, the airport has decided to put 4000 of its staff on new permanent contracts, cutting their pay by up to £8000 (24% of their total pay), at threat of redundancy.
The airport’s proposals and its handling of the process (calling in workers for one-to-one meetings and giving them only 24 hours to respond) are undoubtedly exacerbating pre-existing health problems among staff at Heathrow. In a Unite survey, staff reported high levels of physical and mental ill-health. 73% of staff were affected by anxiety, 50% by depression and 77% had trouble sleeping. According to Unite’s regional coordinating officer Wayne King, ‘the vast majority of our members believe that Heathrow has no interest in their wellbeing’.
While the airport insists that these measures are a last resort, Unite notes that the airport has still made substantial pay-outs to its shareholders, including the Qatari royal family, and top executives, even while alreadyr ecording a £1.5bn loss this year. Last year, 49 directors at Heathrow earned more than £21 million and more than £100 million in dividends were paid to shareholders.
Heathrow, however, rejected Unite’s proposal for employees and shareholders to pay back their end-of-year bonuses and dividends to avoid strike action. According to King ‘the airport is using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to permanently cut workers’ pay’.
Workers at Heathrow are now taking a stand against these outrageous proposals, giving them an opportunity to set an example for all employers who attempt to offload the costs of lost profits on to workers.