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BA and other Heathrow flights over half-term to be disrupted by Menzies Aviation strike

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British Airways services from London Heathrow are likely to be disrupted over the half term break due to strike action at Menzies Aviation.

The Unite union has called a strike from Friday 11th February to Sunday 13th February inclusive.

It provides ground handling and refuelling services at Heathrow, although it only provides refuelling services to British Airways.

Menzies Aviation Heathrow strike action

You can read more on the Unite union’s website here although this is clearly a one-sided view of events.

Staff are striking as a result of a decision by Menzies to not offer pay rises this year. According to the Unite union, over 800 staff at Menzies were fired during the pandemic and then rehired on weaker contracts. The union claims that, in the most extreme cases, staff took pay cuts of £9,000 per year.

As well as refusing pay rises for 2022, Unite claims that Menzies has also refused to meet outstanding pay rises for 2020 and 2021.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said:

Menzies cynically used the cover of the pandemic to fire and rehire its workers to boost long-term profits and it is now refusing to even consider a pay rise. Given the appalling treatment Menzies workers have received from their employer it is little surprise that they felt they had no option but to take strike action.

“Bad employers need to be aware that Unite is wholly committed to defending and protecting the pay and conditions of its members. Unite’s members at Menzies will receive the union’s full and complete support until this dispute is resolved.”

Menzies aviation heathrow strike

Which airlines work with Menzies Aviation at Heathrow?

Menzies Aviation is a two pronged business.

One leg provides ground handling and passenger services, including check-in staff. Customers include American, Lufthansa, Austrian, Swiss, China Airlines, Air Canada, Croatian, Eurowings, Icelandair, Finnair, Aer Lingus, Egyptair, Qantas and Loganair.

The other leg of the business handles refuelling for British Airways.

How disruptive will the strike be?

Unite is promising “severe disruption”.

For British Airways, which only uses Menzies for refuelling, it may be more manageable. BA have told us they are “working closely with our partners to understand how any industrial action may affect our operations.” The majority of short haul flights will able to refuel at their destination. It is obviously a different story for long haul flights.

However, Menzies is not the only refuelling contractor at Heathrow, so it is possible that other companies could cover.

The situation may be worse for other airlines who may find, for example, that they have no check-in or baggage handling staff for three days.

In a statement, Heathrow said:

“We are aware of an industrial action ballot for Menzies employees who support airlines operating out of Heathrow.

It would not be appropriate for us to comment on the ongoing discussions they are having with their employer. As always, we remain in constant dialogue with all partners who operate at Heathrow and will continue to do everything we can to ensure that passengers can enjoy a safe and reliable journey.”

As usual in these circumstances, a lot can change in the next 10 days and it is likely that some sort of postponement or agreement is reached. Even if the strike goes ahead, BA passengers may come off better than others.

Comments (58)

This article is closed to new comments. Feel free to ask your question in the HfP forums.

  • bafan says:

    As they should. With inflation at 5%+ no pay increase is effectively a pay cut.

    • ChrisC says:

      Not forgetting the 10% increase in National Insurance about to hit pay packets as well.

      • John says:

        You mean the 1.25% increase?

        • ChrisA says:

          The NI rate increase is by 1.25%, which makes it a 10% rise in the amount of money paid by individuals.

        • Charles Martel says:

          Employees will see their NI increase from 12% to 13.5% a 10.4% increase. Employers will see the rate they pay for those employees rise from 13.8% to 15.05% a 9% increase. Any pay rise employees may have got will likely be reduced by this increase in the employers rate as ultimately businesses have a budget for their employees and if more of it has to go in taxation less of it will go to the employee.

        • Rui N. says:

          There is no 1.25% increase. There’s, in total, a 2.5 percentage points increase. Quite different, as Charles Martel explains below.

        • J says:

          @John – By that logic, the average family’s gas bill doubling is only around a 2% increase in their gas bill (once scaled out across their full income). It’s a ~10% increase in national insurance – 1.25% is a nonsensical way to spin it.

          • Rui N. says:

            1.25% is not just nonsensical. It’s simply wrong. It’s 1.25 percentage points for the employee (then another 1.25 p.p. for the employer). Percentage and percentage points are not synonyms.

    • Track says:

      The thing tho we should not be expecting RPI-like, 5%+ increases across the board to all workers in the country.

      It is not going to happen.

      • Rob Collins says:

        Well the average private sector pay increase (Sept-Nov quarter) was 4.5%, so why not? I certainly would be voting to take action if I were in their position.

      • Charles Martel says:

        But without intending to be disparaging most of the workers in these roles are going to be relatively low paid and are less likely to have the fat in their household budget to absorb a 7% increase in their cost of living. Across the country/world these workers are going to get increasingly upset that they’re working hard and finding their life getting more and more difficult. If they don’t get pay increases I could see their protests getting more militant – decades of fantasy economic and energy policy are probably going to turn to pitchforks.

        • The real Swiss Tony says:

          Yep. I’ll add my +1 to that and I’m far from being a socialist. This is just common sense. Once the economy doesn’t work for a significant minority, the wheels quite literally come off. I was paying £104 a month for my gas & electric. I’ve just upped the direct debit to £200 a month, I’ll cope. But I also understand that many can’t.

        • Londonsteve says:

          Totally agree, Charles. I would add to your comment that my suspicion is that the refuelling staff are very likely not low paid, per se. It is a highly responsible job entailing specialist training and there are a finite number of people qualified to undertake it. Even before the present ’employee’s market’, such employees were able to leverage the power of a union to keep an employer’s inherent tendency to reduce pay and benefits in check. Now they are calling the shots and Menzies deserve everything they get; zero pay rise in a climate of 5% RPI inflation is asking for trouble. Their management have at a pen stroke engineered a major crisis and heads will roll for this, without a doubt. It’s not like a strike at a fish packing plant or a museum, this has serious ramifications for the country.

      • Rob says:

        My team got 10%. Time to get another job if you’re getting under 5%.

        • ChrisA says:

          Do you have any jobs going, Rob?!

        • Nick says:

          @Rob that’s all very well for professional type roles with transferable skills. It’s a different story for the very low paid, many of whom can’t afford to switch roles even if their skills are transferable. There have been a lot of good articles recently about how huge swathes of people are effectively tied to their current employer.

          Even if half of the refuellers (for example) did hand in their notice and become truckers, what would happen? Inflation will kick in even sooner if Menzies had to pay new people more to attract them. And we can expect the same disruption for a while as security clearance for airside passes is very slow to acquire.

        • BP says:

          My financial sector employer is giving 4% for most roles and 3% for senior roles. Less if your performance wasn’t “good”.

      • ken says:

        Public sector – probably not.

        Private sector – most food retails (Tesco etc) already settled on 6%
        Transport sector much higher than that.
        Vacancies everywhere in low paid sectors.

        FWIW, I think the inflation genie is well and truly out the bottle.

  • Track says:

    The question is why Menzies employees agreed to be fired and rehired at lower salaries/worse contracts.

    They should stood ground and go through the tribunal in case of unfair dismissal (without a cause specific to that person).

    It was a task for the business leaders/C-suite to find financing, use one of the most generous furlough schemes.

  • Jon says:

    Some seriously dodgy employer behaviour described there. Speaking selfishly I’m just crossing my fingers Ethiopian is largely unaffected

  • David Passmore says:

    Unite should focus on fighting the ‘fire and rehire’ tactic that so many employers lawfully deploy.

    • CarpalTravel says:

      Totally agree. I am deeply suspicious of unions, at least their leaders. They seem less about protecting their members these days and more about elevating their position and lining their own pockets. See the likes of Lord Woodley for details.

      Back in the day I knew people who were regularly in meetings with him; in public he was all fire and brimstone but behind closed doors it was a transformation, buddying up with board members, never missing out on a free meal etc..

      • Lady London says:

        One of my gigs was minute-taking for union-employer meetings at a newspaper well known for acrimonious union relations.

        It was just as cosy as you’ve said and the meeting seemed almost choreographed just to get the minutes into the record that the dance of ’employer said this’ so ‘union said this’ was being followed.

        Everything else was clearly a good relationship on a regular basis and all decisions were clearly being made outside of the official meetings. Not unusual in any field, really.

      • Ken says:

        One of (the many) difficulties unions have faced in the last 20 years is how do you get members to strike asking for 3.5% pay when the offer is 2.5%.
        Strike for 3 days and it will take more than a year for that extra 1% to recover the lost pay.

        It could be a world of difference with inflation at 7% and much higher in energy and food, vacancies everywhere. Offered 5% ? Might as well try for 10%

        If individual’s worry about how their own pay demands effects general inflation then they are idiots.

  • AJA says:

    I sympathise with the employees however it is obvious this is timed to cause maximum disruption. I’m not a fan of strikes in general as i feel they don’t really work.

    I hope Menzies and Unite resolve this without disrupting passengers. A strike is the last thing we need with all that’s gone on over the last two years.

    A question for HR specialists out there if Menzies fired and rehired does length of service prior to firing count or are these staff now considered new and need two years service from date of rehire for full employment protection e.g. statutory redundancy protection /unfair dismissal etc

    • Lady London says:

      Hey AJA au contraire this is the correct timing as it’s one of the few times the employees have actually got any leverage.

      Now’s the time to go for it.

      • Londonsteve says:

        Entirely agree, Lady London. Passenger discomfort is collateral damage, this is their leverage. Good that they have this because many employees don’t and strikes have little effect.

  • jj says:

    Does anyone knoelw if the list of affected airlines is complete or just examples? I’m travelling with Virgin that weekend and have a connecting flight in the USA so delays could be challenging.

  • Tom says:

    Absolute solidarity with the strikers. Fire and rehire is a scandal.

  • John T says:

    Meh, these strikes are always called off at the last minute. I can’t remember the last time they actually caused major travel disruption.

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