Gatwick workers vote for strike action


LONDON (August 15, 2008) – Baggage handlers and check-in staff employed by Swissport at Gatwick have overwhelmingly voted to take industrial action in a dispute over pay. The dispute is likely to spread to other UK airports in the coming days and weeks.

Two 24-hour strikes have been scheduled to take place on the 25th and 29th of August. The strike will halt all baggage-handling and check-in operations across airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Monarch, Thomson Fly, First Choice, North West, Air Malta, Air Transat, Oman Air, as well as some smaller airlines.

Swissport has offered a ‘paltry’ 3% increase backdated to July rather than the anniversary date of April 1, and in a two-year offer, RPI capped at 4% in year two. The RPI is currently 5%. The company offer also removed sick pay for the first three days of any absence due to illness, including industrial injury. The union is calling for an increase in excess of 5% in a one-year deal without concessions.

The ballot result for Swissport workers at Stansted is expected at midday today followed by Manchester’s result on Monday. Unite members at Swissport will also shortly be balloted at Birmingham and Newcastle airports which could see an escalation of industrial action across the UK’s airports covering baggage handling, check in and other ground services.

Unite National Officer, Steve Turner said, “Our members are already struggling to keep up with rising food and energy costs. This pay offer is an insult to professional, hard working men and women who have to operate in extremely difficult conditions.

“This result is just the first to be declared with positive ballot results expected over the next few days at Stansted and Manchester airports. Swissport workers will also shortly be balloted at Birmingham and Newcastle airports, which could see an escalation of industrial action across the UK’s airports.

“Our members have had enough. The liberalization of ground-handling services across UK airports has resulted in a ‘race to the bottom,’ which must and will stop. We will not stand back and allow labor costs to determine whether contracts are won or lost.

“We are demanding a national solution to this dispute which addresses the real cost increases our members face. Unite has requested a national level meeting with the company to resolve this dispute but the clock is ticking, and if this does not deliver, our members will strike.

“With the power in aviation concentrated in the hands of airlines who often understand the cost of everything and the value of nothing, professional, hard working men and women are fighting back. There is an air of growing confidence amongst aviation workers and a genuine anger at ongoing attacks from the industry on their terms and conditions.”

There are 318 members at Gatwick planning to take strike action. In the ballot 72% voted in favor of strike action.