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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Four airport battles

by New Worker correspondent

Delays at Britain’s airports have recently been making headlines, so this week it is appropriate to focus on the struggles of workers at the airports and in other transport sectors.

TO START WITH, at Heathrow Airport about 50 workers employed by Aviation Fuel Services (AFS), who are responsible for refuelling half of the non-British Airways traffic at Heathrow airport, have won a 12.5 per cent pay rise (slightly beating inflation). This came after they were due to begin a three-day strike between Thursday and last Sunday, having earlier rejected a 10 per cent offer from the bosses.

Aviation Fuel Services is a joint venture operation that includes BP, Total Energies, Q8 Aviation and Valero Energy, all of which have seen recent huge increases in profits, so the rise can be afforded by the bosses.

The day before the strike was due to begin, last minute talks took place at conciliation service ACAS where an improved offer was belatedly made. This also included an increase in weekend overtime rates and a £2,500 bonus, which will boost workers’ basic annual salary by £4,939.21, backdated to April.

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: “This deal would not have been achieved without the hard work of Unite’s brilliant AFS reps. Their hard work and determination really paid off. Results like this are exactly why those looking to secure a better deal at work should join Unite and get their colleagues to do the same.”

At the same airport, about 700 check-in staff employed by British Airways (BA) have also won a similar deal after workers accepted a significant pay offer, again after having voted for strike action.

The dispute was over BA refusing to reinstate the “temporary”10 per cent pay cut imposed on the workforce during the early stages of the pandemic.

In all, the offer, which will be come in stages, is worth 13 per cent for the workers and reverses the earlier cut. They also get a one off bonus and reinstatement of extra pay for irregular shift work.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a great result for our check-in members at British Airways. By standing together, they have forced a corporate giant like BA to do the right thing and restore levels of pay slashed in the pandemic.”

praise

Another regional officer, Russ Ball, said: “Special praise needs to be given to Unite’s reps, who were critical to ensuring this dispute was a success. Their hard work, dedication and commitment has been essential to ensuring that members had the confi­dence to support industrial action and that workers were fully informed throughout the dispute.”

GMB national officer, Nadine Houghton, added: “Our members had to fight for what was right. Now these mainly women workers have won pay improvements for themselves – as well as forcing BA to make this offer to the rest of their staff too.”

Meanwhile another group of airport workers are gearing up for action. In Scotland, workers at Prestwick Airport have just voted for strikes planned for every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday of August, starting next Friday. If that sounds drastic it should be stressed that Prestwick has seen better days and that most of its former passengers take off from Glasgow Airport. Apart from being Donald Trump’s private airport, it has a military role and handles many cargo flights. In November 2013 it was nationalised by the SNP Government, who had to pay a whole £1 for it. Nine years on the SNP have yet to work out what to do with it, apart from keeping it going.

The dispute is over management refusing to pay shift allowances and the Real Living Wage of £9.90 per hour for new starters.

Unite points out that the latest offer is only between 4–6.5 per cent. Once again talks have been taking place at ACAS.

Speaking for her 80 members at Prestwick, Unite industrial officer Siobhan McCready warned that: “Unite’s members have overwhelmingly backed strike action because they are angry and frustrated. Talks are set to reconvene with Prestwick Airport management but we are not hopeful based on their arrogant attitude towards the workforce, while they shamelessly protect the pay packets of directors. All our members want is a fair rise and recognition for their flexibility and unsocial hours worked.”

The union also points out that the SNP’s Scottish government is undermining its own its much-trumpeted Fair Work agenda by failing to pay proper wages.

Pressure

Similar action is taking place across Europe. To give just on example, ground-crew staff at Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s largest airline, took strike action on Wednesday after their union, Verdi, called a one-day strike on Monday. It said: “Verdi is calling the one-day strike to raise pressure on the employer to make a much-improved and acceptable pay offer in the next round of talks.”

The Lufthansa CEO has said he wants to boost earn­ings before interest and taxes by eight per cent by 2024, a move he said is needed to reduce debt, which means lower costs.