Heathrow talks break down ahead of airport security staff strike

Go slow? Passengers at London Heathrow Terminal 5, home of British Airways (Simon Calder)
Go slow? Passengers at London Heathrow Terminal 5, home of British Airways (Simon Calder)

The prospect of disruption for airline passengers flying from Heathrow Terminal 5 over the Easter holidays has increased.

Airport bosses say talks aiming to avert a walk-out by around 1,400 security staff belonging to the Unite union have broken down.

The strike is due to begin on Friday 31 March and continue until Easter Sunday, 9 April.

Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Workers at Heathrow airport are on poverty wages while the chief executive and senior managers enjoy huge salaries. It is the airport’s workers who are fundamental to its success and they deserve a fair pay increase.

“Our members are simply unable to make ends meet due to the low wages paid by Heathrow. They are being forced to take strike action due to need not greed.”

No future negotiations are scheduled before the strike begins, and Heathrow’s management says talks can resume only if the stoppage is suspended.

Heathrow says the security staff have been given a 10 per cent pay rise plus “further enhancements”.

Most of the workers who are planning to walk out are employed as security officers at Terminal 5. A smaller number work for the airport’s Campus Security team, who operate control posts that give vehicles access to the airfield.

The action is timed to coincide with the normal summer schedule of expansion, which begins on Sunday 26 March, and the start of the school Easter holidays. The walk-out is planned to continue until Easter Sunday.

Passengers on British Airways, which has a monopoly of flights from Terminal 5, are likely to be worst affected. A spokesperson for BA said: “Following Heathrow’s requirement for us to reduce the number of passengers travelling during the period of its employees’ proposed strike action, we’ve regrettably had to make a small number of adjustments to our schedule.

“We’ve apologised to customers whose travel plans have been affected and have offered them a range of options, including rebooking onto a new flight with us or another airline, or requesting a full refund.

“Our teams are continuing to work closely with Heathrow to ensure that our customers’ journeys run smoothly.”

A spokesperson for the airport said: “We will not let these unnecessary strikes impact the hard-earned holidays of our passengers. Our contingency plans will keep the airport operating as normal throughout.

“We are doing everything we can to minimise the impact of this irresponsible action by Unite.

“We are deploying 1,000 additional colleagues and the entire management team who will be in the terminals providing assistance to passengers over the busy Easter getaway.”

Airlines are being asked if they will voluntarily limit the number of passengers: by offering flexible re-booking to customers due to travel during the strike, and by stopping sales of seats on flights departing Heathrow even though there is capacity available.