Plane on Heathrow runway
Plane at Heathrow Airport. Image Credits via osde8info under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Amidst a dispute over plans to fire and rehire much of the workforce at Heathrow Airport, the trade union Unite has announced a total of 41 strikes taking place over a 23 day period between the 2nd and 25th of April. The strike action will involve a broad range of workers, from engineering to fire services and more, several of whom have faced pay cuts up to £8,000. The dispute further revolves around what Unite argues are reductions in the quality of working conditions by Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL).

The decision to fire and rehire the workforce has been described by Unite as ‘all about greed and not about need.’ Heathrow’s Chief Executive revealed last month that the company still has £3.9 billion of liquidity, in the company’s words – ‘enough to see us through until 2023.’

Speaking about these strike actions, Unite regional co-ordinating officer Wayne King said:

‘These strike days are avoidable, yet Heathrow is not listening. HAL railroaded these pay cuts through at a staggering speed, leaving thousands of workers on less pay just before Christmas. But while Unite put forward clear proposals in February to resolve the dispute, the company has yet to give any kind of formal response.’

Unite further allege that HAL escalated tensions by deciding not to pay workers for a full shift if they are on strike for any of that time. The union argue the unwillingness of HAL to co-operate with their staff on this, combined with their continued failure to respond to safety concerns raised by Unite, has led to strike action being extended longer than had initially been planned.

The Heathrow strike paints a spotlight on the wider issue of fire and rehire tactics, where workers are collectively dismissed then offered their previous jobs on different terms. Unite general secretary Len McCluskey spoke on the issue of firing and rehiring, and HAL’s treatment of its workforce:

‘It’s a disgraceful practice that’s outlawed in much of Europe and should be here. Unite is fighting for UK workers to be treated with the same decency. We won’t stop until the law is changed to protect working people from attack.’

Heathrow Airport Limited has been contacted for comment.