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Heathrow Terminal 5 security staff strike to disrupt British Airways flights for 10 days

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Unite, the trade union, has announced that over 1,400 security guards employed by Heathrow have rejected a 10% pay increase and voted in favour of strike action. According to Unite, the entry-level salary for security guards at Heathrow is c. £24,000.

The action will begin on Friday 31st March and end on Sunday 9th April. This coincides with the peak Easter holiday period, with the intention of causing maximum disruption to holidaymakers.

This is not airport-wide. Only security guards at Heathrow Terminal 5 will go on strike, which means this will largely affect British Airways passengers. Campus security guards who check cargo will also strike.

Heathrow security
Nobody is going to be laughing if the strike goes ahead

What impact will this have?

Terminal 5 is Heathrow’s busiest terminal, so this strike has the potential to cause vast amounts of disruption.

No mitigation measures have been announced. I’m not sure if Heathrow is able to redeploy security guards from one terminal to another, although that would simply spread the disruption across the entire airport.

Heathrow has said recently that it has appropriate plans in place for such a strike, although these plans are designed for the benefit of the airport and not passengers. It is likely to involve the airport forcing British Airways to cancel flights even if the airline wants to plough on.

Historically, during periods of disruption, British Airways tries to keep long haul flights going as much as possible, with short haul bearing the brunt of cancellations. Nuremberg, Pisa and Valencia flights have already moved over to Gatwick during Easter to ease pressure at the airport and other flights could follow, if slots and gates are available.

Anyone with flights during the strike period (and I am one of them!) should wait for British Airways to make a formal announcement on any flexibility it is willing to offer. You are unlikely to be able to change flights without penalty until this happens. The key is to then move quickly before the phone lines are swamped and the few alternative options are booked up.

That said ….

Heathrow security

Will this strike even go ahead?

Heathrow and other airports have been beset by a number of strikes in the past six months, from baggage handlers to UK Border Force.

Many of those strikes have been settled by the time they are supposed to start. For example, a last-minute Christmas strike by baggage handlers employed by Menzies Aviation was called off at the last minute.

(The exception to this seems to be strikes called in the public sector, such as by Border Force over Christmas and New Year. Rishi Sunak appears to be a lot less willing to negotiate than his commercial counterparts.)

I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar happen here, with a potential rapprochement or further negotiations delaying or cancelling the strike action. I don’t think British Airways would be very happy for Heathrow to walk into a 10-day strike over Easter without trying its very best to avoid it.

Personally, I am not hugely concerned yet. With just under two weeks until the first strike is scheduled, Heathrow and Unite still have plenty of time come to an amicable agreement. If they don’t, things are going to get messy.

Comments (140)

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  • Richster64 says:

    Can I ask – because I genuinely do not know the answer – where does the union think the money is going to come from to pay for the increased wages? This question is for the discussed strike action that this thread is about…

    … but more generally… for other strikes, where does the extra money come from? if ‘The Government’ is the reply, then where does that money come from? Increased taxes? Spending cuts? And how do those adjustments affect the strikers and the public?

    Not having taken Economics, I have no clue… but I am sure the answers will be interesting to discuss.

    • Numpty says:

      1400 staff, say they were offered an extra £3k per year, would be an extra £4.2M (plus employer NI contributions, pension costs etc.). They could cover that just in raising the parking charges (they used to raise over £120m per year from parking alone).

      I thought 10% was a decent offer (in terms of inflation uplift, rather than a discussion on low wages), my company gave 8% and we were quite happy with that, some of our competitors gave 6%.

      • Londonsteve says:

        Call it £5M. Sounds cheap to avert strikes at a very busy time of the year. I’d have thought it cheaper for BA to sign the cheque and make the problem go away than to have to clear up the operational mess at a time when flights are fully booked. Inflationary pay rises are the bare minimum low paid workers require as they’re hugely disproportionately affected by rising cost of housing, energy and food.

        As for where the money comes from, it’s paid by you and I and the airlines. Companies often complain they’ve got no money but they simply need to charge more or be more efficient, their choice. If they can’t generate enough revenue to pay their employees a decent wage, their business model is broken and it may be more appropriate that they don’t survive and better run entites come in to take their market share. Near zero interest rates have been keeping a flotilla of zombie companies afloat and their day of reckoning has now arrived.

        • JDB says:

          It’s for HAL, not BA to write the cheque and they are heavily constrained by regulation which also means they aren’t fully in control of the business model. Although airport charges represent a tiny proportion of tickets the regulator, egged on by the airlines, ensures passengers will get a sub optimal experience.

          It would also cost a lot more than £5m as any improved offer would have to be paid to everyone and can’t as suggested above be recovered from parking jobs. It will just mean fewer staff/jobs in the future.

    • Amy C says:

      In the case of the railway it would come mainly from the gigantic shareholder bonuses. The TOC’s wanted to negotiate with the unions but the government handcuffed them so they couldn’t.

      • JDB says:

        Of course the government ‘handcuffed’ the TOCs because since the pandemic it’s the government paying all the TOCs bills. Why would the government allow taxpayer money to be handed out by the TOCs; if you are a taxpayer, you ought to be horrified by the idea. When you mention shareholder ‘bonuses’ do you mean dividends? They are what will pay your pension and ISA returns. Absent reinvested dividends your pension will be very meagre.

    • Nototheentitled says:

      Exactly! These people are selfish and entitled most importantly they do know how things work. All they know is crying like a baby and cry louder when they are hit harder by salary price spiral

    • Ken says:

      Heathrow paid £4 billion in dividends to its shareholders between 2012 and 2020
      Four Billion.

      Each passenger pays £31.57 to fly through – one of the most expensive in the world.

      IT’s management spend more time and effort trying to pull the wool of regulators eyes and lobbying than actually running the airport.

      • Lady London says:

        Yes. Sadly the establishment has their own Kool-Aid that they drink.

  • James Harper says:

    I recently paid £12.70 to park at LHR for 46 minutes, that is more than they pay their security staff an hour. There is something very wrong and very rotten going on at LHR and it needs an external audit and investigation. Security at LHR is never pleasant but it’s where I fly from most often. Last week, I had to fly from LGW after the ATC strike in Greece messed up my plans. I was amazed that passing through a UK airport could be a pleasant experience and that security staff could be polite.

    • LD27 says:

      Totally agree. Usually use LHR but used Gatwick Monday. A very quick and pleasant experience through security. Lounge was relaxed and not busy either.

  • Greenpen says:

    Oh dear! Quite a lot of duplicity in this chat!

  • Chris R says:

    These comments have been an entertaining read on the commute this morning

  • yorkieflyer says:

    I am most intrigued by the happy smiling staff and customers in the pic heading this article. Where is this oasis? I’ll be off there like a shot

  • Dev says:

    Gatters pays £37k on entry for someone prepared to work the most flexible shift pattern possible (rostered only 2 weeks in advance, night shifts, weekends, etc) whereas Heathrow pay £24k on entry. more terminals and more staff mean less opportunities to pick up “premium” shifts.

    For such a heavily regulated industry and responsibility, the wages on offer to airport security in the Uk (and worldwide) are terrible.

    You don’t need skills or education to apply but once your in, you are trained up through a rigorous and intensive programme set by the CAA, and then continuously monitored for rest of your career. Even the Stasi would be proud of the data that an airport has on the each staff member and their capability to detect and search.

    (Try identifying a bomb in less than 3/4 seconds on the screen, and then dont forget about guns, knives, sharps or anything else that could be used to hijack/destroy a plane!)

  • rob(staaaar) says:

    Ok, so what’s the likelihood of a RETURNING BA long haul flight into T5 on the 3rd April getting affected? A diversion to T3 maybe?

  • Old Git says:

    Putin will be laughing, he knows he is causing inflation in the “weak” West and that we no longer have the war spirit of WW2. Society pulled together then. We need to do that now which means govt and employers need to understand they can’t be too far below inflation on the lowest paid, and unions that they can’t match or beat inflation. Heading to T5 today…gulp

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