Union calls off UK ground handling strike

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A breakthrough on the pay and conditions of baggage handlers, check-in staff and ground crew employed by Swissport has seen Unite, the workers’ union, call off a pre-Christmas strike that was threatening to cause major disruption at UK airports.

The 48 hour strike, poised to begin at 00.01 hours on Friday 23 December, would have seen over 1,500 frontline airport staff walk out in 18 airports around the UK.

Unite shop stewards will now take the offer, made at talks convened by the conciliation service, Acas, back to their members.

According to the union the dispute has been triggered by “chronic low pay” at Swissport with some baggage handlers earning “only pennies about” the government’s minimum wage level of £7.20.

Commenting on the breakthrough, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: “All along we have said that these workers have a powerful case. They are employed on poverty pay rates – this union says that this is not good enough and so we are determined to win them a better deal.

“Lastly, I call upon British Airways to pay heed. This union is clearly open to reasonable negotiations.  We sincerely hope you take a leaf out of Swissport’s book and meet our members halfway on what is also a very just cause, the call for a living wage and equality for these young workers.”

Unite members had voted by 62.5 per cent to reject a 4.65 per cent three year pay deal for 2015-2017, barely keeping pace with inflation.

Unite has Swissport members at the following airports: Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Leeds/Bradford, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton and Stansted.

Swissport offered to enter into a binding arbitration process with ACAS and Unite in return for Unite calling off the proposed strike.

According to the company numerous offers have been made to the Union since April 2015 however the Union have refused to put many of these offers to their members for consideration. “The latest pay offer was in line with what the union representatives had previously indicated they were prepared to accept and would give all staff an overall increase of 4.65% on their current basic rates of pay, together with additional holiday pay, and increases to overtime rates and other pay supplements for the majority of the workers covered by the agreement,” a spokesman for the company said.

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