Hundreds of workers to strike at Heathrow in run-up to World Cup

Seven hundred workers are due to strike for three days (AP)
Seven hundred workers are due to strike for three days (AP)

Staff at Heathrow airport have announced they will be striking in the run-up to the World Cup - with flights to host country Qatar heavily affected.

Seven hundred workers at the UK’s largest and busiest airport are to strike for three days from November 18 in a dispute over pay, it was announced on Friday.

The World Cup is due to kick off on November 20, and thousands of UK football fans are expected to fly out to watch the tournament.

Trade union Unite said the strike action will cause “disruption, cancellations and delays at Heathrow terminals 2, 3 and 4”.

“[It] will particularly affect Qatar Airways, which has scheduled an additional 10 flights a week during the World Cup,” Unite added in a statement.

The strike will begin in the early hours of November 18 and run until the early hours of Monday, November 21.

It is set to involve 700 workers employed by Dnata (Dubai National Air Travel Agency) and aviation services firm Menzies, who carry out a wide variety of roles, including ground-handling, airside transport and cargo.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Our members at Dnata and Menzies undertake highly challenging roles and are simply seeking a decent pay rise. Both companies are highly profitable and can fully afford to make a fair pay increase. The owners and directors are simply lining their own pockets rather than paying their workers fairly.

“The workers at Heathrow will have Unite’s complete support during this dispute.”

Other leading airlines that will be hit heavily by the strike action include Virgin, Singapore Airlines, Cathay-Pacific and Emirates. Passengers travelling to the United States ahead of Thanksgiving on November 24 are also set to be affected.

Unite says Dnata has offered its workers a five per cent pay increase, while the offers for Menzies workers vary between two and six per cent.

But it says these offers are “far below” the real rate of inflation (RPI), which currently stands at 12.6 per cent - meaning they amount to “pay cuts disguised as pay increases”.

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall said: “Strike action will inevitably cause disruption, delays and cancellations to flights throughout Heathrow, with travellers to the World Cup particularly affected. However, this dispute is entirely of Dnata and Menzies own making. They have had every opportunity to make a fair pay offer but have chosen not to do so.”

Alex Doisneau, Managing Director of Dnata UK Airport Operations, said the firm is “implementing contingency plans” to reduce disruption, and branded Unite’s propositions regarding pay rises “unrealistic” in the current economic climate.

She said: “It is disappointing that Unite plans to progress with this costly industrial action, despite our offer to staff of an award which, with previous increases, amounts to a pay rise of 15.5% (20.2% for HGV drivers) since December 2021. This is in line with inflation and amongst the best in the industry.

“We would like to reassure our customers, partners and passengers that we are implementing contingency plans to minimise disruption to our operations.

“The Union’s proposition is unrealistic and doesn’t reflect the challenging economic environment we find ourselves in as a business. Despite our sustained commitment to the UK and its communities, the impact of the pandemic, rapid inflation and other local market conditions mean that our UK Airport Operations business is now making a financial loss each month. The increase in salary suggested by Unite is irresponsible and would undoubtedly impact our business’ ability to operate in the best interest of our workforce in the long term.

“Our offer has been overwhelmingly accepted by other staff at the airport and we remain committed to reaching a meaningful and mutually acceptable agreement for all parties.”

Meanwhile Miguel Gomez Sjunnesson, EVP Europe at Menzies Aviation said: “Unite are being incredibly obstructive by refusing to join discussions regarding a pay increase for our Heathrow ground handling workforce.

“We urge Unite to take part in these negotiations, alongside the other trade union, and to continue separate discussions with our Heathrow cargo operations. This threatening of industrial action is all about creating sensationalist headlines rather than doing what’s right for their members.

“Strike action will benefit no-one and will only delay the process at a time when our employees need the increase now. We are ready and willing to continue pay discussions, which we believe is in the best interest of our employees. I also want to reassure our airline customers and their passengers that we have robust contingency plans in place should Unite elect to continue with unnecessary industrial action.”

Heathrow says it is in talks with other airline partners to see what could be done to reduce the disruption should the strike go ahead.

An airport spokesperson said: “We are in discussions with our airline partners on what contingency plans they can implement to support their ground handling should the strike go ahead. Our priority is to ensure passengers are not disrupted by airline ground handler shortages.”

Menzies has been approached for a comment.