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London Heathrow Security Staff Begin 10-Day Strike

Around 70 flights were canceled, although senior management at the airport has reassured customers that flight disruptions will be kept to a minimum over the busy Easter period

by Fergus Cole

April 5, 2023

Photo: London Heathrow, Terminal 5C (satellite 2). Courtesy of David Dyson

Security staff at London Heathrow Airport have begun a 10-day walkout over a pay dispute, which is expected to cause significant disruption at the U.K.’s busiest airport during Easter.

Hundreds of Heathrow security officers and ground staff members of the workers’ union Unite have initiated ten days of industrial action after demands for a better pay package weren’t met. Specifically, staff working at London Heathrow Airport’s (LHR) Terminal 5 will be involved in the strike. The only airline to operate flights out of Terminal 5 is British Airways, and around 70 flights were canceled on Friday, March 31.

According to Heathrow, airport management had offered the workers a 10% pay rise on January 1, along with a £1,000 ($1,237) lump sum payment. However, Unite claims this amounts to a pay cut in real terms due to rising inflation and a so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ in the U.K. and is therefore unacceptable for its members. In addition, it cited that the airport has recently posted huge profits and given pay rises to senior management.

Photo: London Heathrow Airport. Courtesy of Heathrow Airports Limited

“Heathrow can afford to pay a decent pay rise to its workers,” said Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite. “This is a wealthy company which is about to return to bumper profits.”

“In recent years, it’s approved an astronomical rise in salary for its CEO and paid out dividends to shareholders worth billions. Yet somehow, Heathrow executives seem to think it’s acceptable to offer what amounts to a real terms pay cut to its security guards and ground staff who are already on poverty pay,” said the union.

“Unite has a laser-like focus on our members’ jobs, pay, and conditions; the workforce at Heathrow Airport will receive the union’s unswerving support in this fight for a decent deal.”

Wayne King, the regional co-ordinating officer at Unite, added: “Heathrow Airport has thrown away the opportunity to avoid strikes. The strike action will undoubtedly result in severe delays and disruption to passengers across the airport but this dispute is a direct result of Heathrow Airport’s stubborn refusal to pay its workers fairly.”

However, although the full impact of the strikes is yet to be felt, officials at London Heathrow reassured passengers on Friday morning that the airport was operating, as usual, thanks to its contingency plans and that families shouldn’t be worried about their Easter plans being affected.

“You’ll see it operating as normal,” said John Holland-Kaye, chief executive of London Heathrow. “We have a lot of colleagues who have come to help us out today, both security officers and managers, who are helping out in their purple shirts, like me.”

“But we also have some other agency, third-party workers who have come in to help us who are very experienced in this kind of security environment, and they’re keeping the airport running smoothly. So, Heathrow is operating as normal. If you’re traveling over the Easter period, don’t worry, you’ll have a good journey.”