British airports strike averted after talks breakthrough

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A strike that would have shut down six British airports on a key holiday weekend was averted on Monday after management offered an improved 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 would have targeted 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 Unite's national officer Brian Boyd said the union was calling off the threat of strikes while workers voted on the new proposal in the next few weeks.

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

"Details of the agreement will be made public once BAA staff have been advised of the improved offer."

Brendan Gold, the union's national secretary, added: "We are very pleased to be able to reassure the travelling public that we, for our side, have worked tirelessly to achieve a settlement."

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."

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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