'The sun shines on the righteous'

Unite members take first day of strike action in fight against £8000-a-year permanent pay cuts

Reading time: 4 min

Heathrow workers proudly stood on the picket lines today (December 1) on their first day of strike action over savage permanent pay cuts that will leave them £8,000 a year worse off each year.

The strike action today, taken by workers who are critical to the operation of the airport, such as  firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, central terminal operations, landside and airside operations, is the first in a series of stoppages in December.

The striking Unite members are fighting against ‘fire and rehire’ contracts being forced on to them by Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) bosses, which Unite has highlighted are totally unnecessary – especially when airport chief executives have boasted that the airport has enough in cash reserves to see it through for two years even if not a single flight took off.

The strike action today on December 1 is highly symbolic as it is the day when the workers’ ‘poverty’ contracts begin to take effect.

Alongside the picket lines an ad van toured Heathrow and the surrounding areas with messages including “Heathrow’s super-rich shareholders are jetting off with workers’ wages” and “Stop Heathrow’s billionaire-backed wage cuts”.

HAL’s CEO John Holland-Kaye was also portrayed as a ‘Grinch’ on the picket line (pictured below) – indeed he has pocketed pay and pensions worth nearly £2.6m in 2019, a remuneration package that is nearly three times that of equivalent airport bosses.

Striking Heathrow workers were inundated with messages of support from the public, MPs and others.

Labour MP and former shadow chancellor John McDonnell (pictured below centre) made an appearance on the picket line to show his support.

Speaking on the picket line, Unite London and Eastern regional secretary Pete Kavanagh (pictured below, left) hailed the workers for their brave stand.

“Taking strike action during a pandemic is nothing short of courageous,” he said.

“Employers are using the pandemic to undermine workers’ wages,” Kavanagh added. “Thousands of workers working throughout Heathrow have been living in fear since the pandemic began for attacks on their jobs or pay.

“The fact that Heathrow workers have said no and fought back gives confidence to all the workers at the airport.”

Unite rep and Heathrow engineer Chris told UniteLIVE why he was proudly striking today.

“We’re here today because Heathrow have ignored four proposals from Unite,” he explained. “We’ve made four counter proposals to their one proposal because we believe these permanent cuts are unnecessary. We believe a temporary solution is there and the business should get back round the table and start engaging in meaningful talks with the union.”

Chris hailed the atmosphere on the picket line, calling it “absolutely amazing”.

“There’ve been three picket points – we’re at Hatton Cross now (pictured below) and we’ve been inundated with support from fellow colleagues, members, the public and other groups of workers.

“It’s a very warm feeling here with the sun shining – and I firmly believe that the sun shines on the righteous,” Chris added. “This is my first time on strike and it’s the first time Heathrow Airport Limited workers have taken strike action since 1976. It’s quite sad to see that we’re back on strike today just over 40 years later.”

Chris urged Heathrow management to “get back round the table” to avert further strike action.

“Let’s have meaningful consultation,” he said. “And let’s start respectfully engaging in that consultation around legacy pay grades that have contributed to the success of Heathrow over many decades and will continue to going forward.”

By UniteLive team

Pictures by Chantal Chegrinec and Mark Thomas

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