Workers face poverty in Heathrow fire and rehire storm

Last call to fat cat bosses to stop UK top airport strikes this autumn

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Heathrow, one of the world’s largest airports, is facing a complete shutdown this autumn, as members of Unite prepare to ballot for strike action, over the company’s attempts to slash the pay of 4,000 workers by up to £8,000.

Members of Unite employed directly by Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) including security officers, engineers, airside operatives and firefighters will begin balloting for industrial action on Thursday 8 October with the ballot closing on Thursday 5 November with strikes following soon after.

The dispute is a direct result of Heathrow Airport Limited’s (HAL) decision to issue controversial section 188 notices to “fire and rehire” staff on vastly inferior pay and conditions. Workers face losing up to £8,000 per annum, around 25 per cent of their pay.

Workers selling homes

Fearful of being pushed into certain poverty if HAL’s proposals are implemented, workers are already preparing to sell their homes, move to cheaper location, into smaller accommodation or give up their cars.

Heathrow has claimed the pay cuts are a necessary consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic but Unite rejects this as a fabrication claiming that HAL’s true intention is to use the ‘cover of covid’ to implement long-held plans to cut staff pay to boost profits.

The union also dismisses HAL’s cries of poverty pointing to the vast salaries paid to senior executives – its chief executive was paid £3m in pay and pensions last year – and asking why the salary sacrifice does not start at the top of the organisation. There were 49 directors at Heathrow who earned over £21m last year.

At the beginning of the pandemic HAL announced it had a war chest of £3.2bn and could survive without a flight leaving for a year. HAL also paid a £100m dividend to shareholders including the Qatari royal family.

In September the airport was catering for between 400 and 580 flights per day.  Flights include the lucrative British Airways route to JFK which is popular for pre-Christmas travel.

Unite’s conviction about HAL’s motives are borne out by the fact that the cuts are permanent rather than temporary.

The union also argues that it has assisted the airport in cutting costs by working with it earlier this year to undertake a voluntary severance scheme which saw over 800 workers leave the airport.

Unite has also attempted to discuss further proposals to save money, which would avoid cutting staff’s pay permanently, but management has rejected such proposals.

‘Truly shocking’

“The opportunism of HAL’s highly-paid managers is truly shocking,” commented Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King.  “They are using the cover of Covid to impose brutal cuts on workers trying to get by in one of the most expensive cities on the planet.

“They are picking the pockets of loyal workers whose earnings are the lifeblood of the local economy yet leaving their super-salaries unscathed and shareholders’ bounties untouched.

“It is an immoral act born from boardroom greed with nothing whatsoever to do with financial need and it will be condemned as such by all right-thinking people. These pay cuts are so great that workers face losing their homes with hard-working families being plunged into poverty.

“HAL’s directors and shareholders must look to their consciences not just their riches and step back from this now,” continued King.

“Unite has made repeated attempts to work with HAL to find cost savings but rather than advance such talks they have decided it is better to fire and rehire staff on vastly inferior rates of pay.

“We urge HAL to drop these appalling fire and rehire plans and instead enter into constructive and honest negotiations with Unite,” he concluded.

By Barckley Sumner

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