'Epidemic of ill health' at Heathrow

Shock new survey reveals reality of working at Heathrow as airport bosses press ahead with huge pay cuts

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A confidential survey of workers at Heathrow Airport has revealed an epidemic of mental and physical ill health, linked to working at the airport.

The findings of the survey, which was compiled by Unite, the UK’s principal aviation union representing workers at the airport, have been published to coincide with the news that the employer Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) is gearing up in its attempt to permanently strip workers of up to £8,000 per annum (25 per cent) of their pay, through the use of highly controversial ‘fire and rehire’ rules.

The workforce is currently being balloted for industrial action in response to HAL’s pay cuts, with the ballot closing on Thursday, November 5.

The confidential survey found that over half of respondents (55 per cent) did not believe that working at Heathrow Airport was good for their mental health.

When workers said their mental health had been affected the biggest issues were anxiety (79 per cent), irritability and anger (53 per cent) and depression (50 per cent). However several respondents also reported that they were suicidal or had suicidal thoughts.

A total of 15 per cent of respondents had been formally diagnosed with mental health problems.

Physical health problems were even higher at the airport with 92 per cent of respondents saying that work caused physical health problems. The biggest physical health issues affecting over three quarters of respondents were problems with sleep (77 per cent), closely and inevitably followed by tiredness (67 per cent).

Headaches, possibly linked to the current requirement to wear masks and visors at work, were a major issue affecting nearly half of workers (47 per cent), while poor diet and loss of appetite affected 40 per cent of workers. Just over a third of workers suffered from generalised aches and pains (34 per cent), while just under a quarter (23 per cent) are suffering gastric problems.

At the end of last week, HAL rejected fresh proposals from Unite which could have negated the proposed pay cuts, after previously rejecting out of hand the union’s proposals to pay back bonuses and shareholder dividends, to offset pay cuts.

The company is now planning to move to individual consultation meetings on the pay cuts as part of its ‘fire and rehire’ strategy , beginning as early as next Monday (October 26), which is expected to further exacerbate the mental health crisis currently engulfing the airport.

Meanwhile the company seems hell-bent on pressing ahead with individual consultations, despite Unite formally registering a ‘failure to agree’ notice which should be resolved first.

Unite regional coordinating officer Wayne King said, “The level of mental and physical ill health being experienced at Heathrow is jaw dropping.

“The vast majority of our members believe that Heathrow has no interest in their wellbeing.

The health problems at Heathrow Airport have been greatly exacerbated by the cold hearted and callous manner that the employer is trying to force through pay cuts,” he added.

“Workers, many of whom worked through the first wave of the pandemic, feel totally undervalued and unappreciated.

“The workforce cannot understand why HAL wants to make permanent pay cuts in response to what is a temporary crisis,” King continued.

“Rather than take stock of the mental and physical health problems affecting its employees, HAL is instead rushing into highly damaging individual consultations as it seeks to ‘fire and rehire its workforce’, and slash their pay.

“HAL needs to show that its commitments to staff wellbeing are worth more than the paper they are written on, by dropping its pay cut plans and returning to the negotiating table.”

By Barckley Sumner

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