British Airways ‘timed’ strikes to bring chaos at the start of summer school holidays

British Airways ‘timed’ strikes to bring chaos at the start of summer school holidays

British Airways - Frank Augstein/AP

British Airways – Frank Augstein/AP

Summer vacation plans are threatened by a new wave of airline and train strikes scheduled for the first week of the summer school vacation.

British Airways ground crew and baggage handlers voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for wage strikes at Heathrow Airport, with union officials insisting the dates would be set for the last two weekends in July to “maximize the leverage”.

Ministers believe the RMT’s next round of rail strikes will also target school holidays after talks again broke down on Thursday night with no resolution to the dispute. Sources within the Department of Transport (DfT) said unions were planning a new round of strikes for the last week of July to coincide with summer break and the main Commonwealth games being held in Birmingham.

Trains stopped near Peterborough station on second day of RMT union strike this week - Paul Marriott

Trains stopped near Peterborough station on second day of RMT union strike this week – Paul Marriott

BA strikes could take a fortnight from now, but union officials said the strike would be delayed until the third or fourth weekend in July and “targeted in the first week of school holidays”. The airline operates around 600 flights a day from Heathrow, half of the airport’s capacity.

The dispute, which affects 700 members of the Unite and GMB unions, is over BA’s refusal to reinstate a 10% salary increase for ground crew who received reduced wages during the pandemic. The airline is offering a one-time payment for this year only.

The unions said “vacationers face major disruption” but blamed “British Airways’ stubbornness”.

The Heathrow strike, along with the train stoppage, is likely to have a knock-on effect on British roads, threatening highway chaos at the same time. Airports were overwhelmed in the half term break and the BA strikes at Heathrow, coupled with a cap on Gatwick which could see up to 10,000 flights cancelled, will only increase the likelihood of a miserable summer ahead for tourists.

British Airways workers now vote to strike - and aim for summer escape for maximum impact - DANIEL LEAL/AFP

British Airways workers now vote to strike – and aim for summer escape for maximum impact – DANIEL LEAL/AFP

Downing Street expressed its alarm at yet another transport strike, but insisted the dispute was out of its control. Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said on Thursday: “This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions and we encourage both to come together to find an agreement.

“We don’t want any more interruptions for passengers and the strike would only add to the misery faced by passengers at airports.

“DfT will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place to ensure that minimal disruption is caused and that where there is disruption, passengers can be reimbursed.”

A DfT source has warned that more strikes by airline and rail workers in late July could jeopardize family holidays. The source said: “Our airports, airlines and tour operators are private concerns. They need to put customers first and ensure flight bookings are honored and not canceled at the last minute.”

Upcoming attacks could affect the Commonwealth Games

Ministers are also concerned that the next round of train strikes could be timed to coincide with the Commonwealth Games, which are taking place in Birmingham between 28 July and 8 August.

“It would be a tragedy if the Commonwealth Games, an event meant to bring people together, were sabotaged by a deliberately timed strike,” said a government source.

The prospect of more travel chaos came on the second of three days of national rail strikes, after 40,000 RMT members left in a fierce dispute over wages, jobs and conditions.

RMT and Network Rail remain polar opposites to the extent that the size of any pay raise – Network Rail is officially offering up to three percent and RMT wants an inflation-aligned pay raise of nine percent – hasn’t even been discussed. . According to sources on both sides, negotiations are still stuck on RMT’s requirement that any job cuts be voluntary, while Network Rail insists on a modernization program before any substantial salary offers can be made.

As of Thursday, Network Rail was able to operate just one in five services, with the last trains from London to Scotland leaving at 2pm. Passenger numbers were between 12 and 18 percent of normal levels, Network Rail said.

On Thursday, Johnson called the strikes “a terrible idea”, describing them as “unnecessary”.

Union officials have suggested the Heathrow attacks could spread to BA employees in Gatwick, although the airline has reduced flights from the country’s second-largest airport since the pandemic. BA’s ground crew at Gatwick is considering industrial action over the payment.

Nadine Houghton, national officer at the GMB, said: “With grim predictability, tourists face major disruptions thanks to British Airways’ stubbornness.”

She said BA offered its employees “crumbs of the table” in the form of a one-time 10% bonus payment rather than repaying “the 10% they stole from them last year” and pointed out that managers had their salaries fully paid. paid. restored.

Mrs. Houghton urged BA to heed union demands, saying, “It’s not too late to save the summer break – other BA workers have had their pay cuts reversed. Do the same with the ground and check-in crew and this industrial action can be nipped in the bud. ”

Oliver Richardson, Unite’s national aviation officer, said: “The problems British Airways is facing are entirely of its own making. It brutally cut jobs and wages during the pandemic, even though the government was paying them to save jobs. The strike action will inevitably cause serious disruptions to BA’s services at Heathrow.”

The GMB voted 91 percent in favor of a strike, while Unite members voted 94 percent.

In a statement, BA said: “We are extremely disappointed with the outcome and that the unions have chosen this course of action.

“Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of over £4bn, we made a 10% payout offer which was accepted by most other colleagues.

“We are fully committed to working together to find a solution, because in order to deliver to our customers and rebuild our business, we have to work as a team.

“Of course, we will keep our customers updated on what this means for them as the situation evolves.”

Travelers ‘on the edge of their seats at all times’

Travel industry experts urged both sides to be content with the good of an industry shaken by the pandemic. Clive Wratten, chief executive of the Business Travel Association, said: “Travelers deserve much better. The Business Travel Association requires the airline, unions and employees to serve the interests of their passengers. They cannot destroy confidence in international travel.”

Paul Charles, chief executive of travel consultancy The PC Agency, said: “It’s unsettling because people are always on the edge of their seats, worried they might get an email canceling or changing their flights. It’s not just BA, you have Easyjet and Ryanair strikes in Spain. I don’t think BA will want to add to the uncertainty. They will want to reach a compromise.”

Rory Boland, Editor of Which? Travel said: “Passengers must not bear the brunt of these strikes. British Airways must take the necessary steps to avoid a series of extremely disruptive last-minute cancellations.”

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