British airports strike on busy holiday weekend averted

17th August 2010, Comments 0 comments

A strike that could have shut down six British airports on a key holiday weekend was averted on Monday after management offered a new pay deal to workers, both sides said.

Members of the Unite union, including firefighters and security staff, had originally voted by three to one to take action over what they saw as an insufficient pay offer.

There had been fears union leaders were planning to target the three-day August 28-30 holiday weekend, one of the busiest periods of the year for air travel.

The action would have affected London Heathrow, the world's busiest international passenger airport.

But after a day of talks, Unite's national officer Brian Boyd said the union was calling off the threat of strikes while workers voted over the next few weeks on a "much improved" offer from management.

"Unite's negotiating committee will recommend a much improved offer from (airport operator) BAA," he said in London outside the headquarters of conciliation service ACAS, which helped broker the new deal.

Details of the agreement would be made public once airport staff had been given information, he said.

Peter Harwood, chief conciliator at ACAS, said details of the new pay deal would likely be disclosed on Tuesday.

The union, whose members agreed to accept a pay freeze amid the economic downturn last year, had described BAA's initial pay rise offer of up to 1.5 percent as "measly".

As well as Heathrow, any action would have affected London Stansted and Southampton in southern England, and Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen in Scotland.

Following the breakthrough in talks, a BAA spokesman said the operator was now confident that anyone travelling in the next few weeks would not face disruption.

"We believe that the unions are going to recommend acceptance of our offer to their membership," said a spokesman.

"If that's the case, then we are very, very confident that any disruption to our airport operations has now been avoided."

Both sides had come out with a deal they were happy with, he said.

"I think it's a deal that is a fair reward for our staff, but it's also a deal that the company can afford."

British Transport Minister Philip Hammond added: "Passengers will be relieved that they are now able to go on holiday without the fear of disruption from strikes."

Only around half of the 6,000 workers balloted by Unite voted, but almost 75 percent who did cast their votes opted for strike action.

Unite had said the airports would be forced to close if strikes went ahead because staff such as firefighters and security personnel are essential and difficult to replace at short notice.

A fresh strike would have been the latest disruption in a troubled year for air travellers.

European airspace was shut by the Icelandic ash cloud crisis earlier this year and British Airways services have been hit by a series of cabin crew strikes.

© 2010 AFP

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