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BAA airport staff strike result due

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 12 August 2010

As more than 6,000 British Airport Authority (BAA) workers vote on whether to strike at six BAA airports, Channel 4 News looks at the power of the unions as the coalition tries to implement spending cuts.

BAA airport (Reuters)

The result is due this afternoon of a strike ballot by thousands of workers at BAA who are are deciding whether to strike in a dispute over pay that could cause travel chaos before the August Bank Holiday.

David Cameron has said such a dispute would "achieve nothing apart from damage".

As the coalition draws up its austerity measures to deal with the £167 billion budget deficit, the trade unions appear to be flexing their muscles to support member workers in various industrial disputes.

Labour leadership hopeful Ed Miliband, who is backed by the Unite union who are carrying out the BAA ballot, did not comment directly on the BAA strike ballot, but told Channel 4 News that it is important the working people are appropriately represented.

He said: "Trade unions are the cornerstone of our society," and it "is bad for many of the workers who are unrepresented."

Unite, which has been in an ongoing dispute with British Airways (BA) too, has asked more than 6,000 of its members who work as firefighters, engineers, security and support officers at Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports, to vote for industrial action over what it calls a "measly" pay offer.

The union must give a week's notice of a stoppage, so airports could shut in the week before August Bank Holiday weekend, causing chaos for thousands of holiday-makers.

Unite said that BAA staff had already accepted a pay freeze in 2009 and that this year, the company had offered staff a one per cent pay increase. On top of that staff would also get an extra 0.5 per cent which was conditional on changes to a sickness agreement.

The union has also called for workers to receive a performance-related bonus that was promised to them if the company hit a financial target. 

However, the that financial target was not met and was three per cent under.

BAA said it made a "reasonable" offer at a time when "BAA and its airline customers are seeing a decline in passengers due to the impacts of recession and volcanic ash".

Unite's national officer for civil aviation, Brendan Gold said: "BAA's measly pay offer is nothing short of confrontational.

"Last year, staff accepted a pay freeze. Their generosity helped the company, yet BAA has returned the favour with no bonus and a one per cent pay offer when inflation is currently five per cent."

Negotiations have been held for months, according to the Unite officer Brian Boyd, and he says the union is prepared to continue talking because an agreement could be reached if the company is prepared to be "fairer and more realistic".

Four BAA airports suffer passenger dips in July
The Unite ballot comes as BAA announced that Heathrow had its busiest-ever month in July 2010.

The west London airport handled 6.7 million passengers last month. That is 3.5 per cent up on the July 2009 total.

The month of July included Heathrow's busiest-ever day, which was on Sunday 18 July, when 232,000 passengers passed through the airport.

The growth at Heathrow last month was driven by the European market which increased by 9.5 per cent.

The rise in numbers at Heathrow compensated last month for a dip in passenger levels at four of the five other UK airports run by BAA.

At Stansted numbers fell by 7.2 per cent to 2.02 million. At Southampton number fell by 1.4 per cent to just under 188,000. At Glasgow airport numbers were down by 3.6 per cent to just under 789,000 and Aberdeen decreased by 4.1 per cent to just under 277,000.

Edinburgh helped BAA, but only slightly, with numbers up by 0.6 per cent to just over 961,000.

In the first seven months of the year the siz airports handled nearly 58.5 million passengers. That is a 4.5 per cent drop on the January to July total for 2009.

Political reaction
The Prime Minister David Cameron said earlier that he hopes there will not be a strike by Unite members at the six airports operated by BAA, claiming that it would "achieve nothing apart from damage".

"These sorts of strikes never achieve anything apart from damage - damage to business, damage to jobs, damage to the interests of tourists who want to come to visit Britain, or people who want to leave Britain and have a holiday overseas," he told reporters at Number 10.

"I very much hope that they don't go ahead. They will do nothing but harm. We want to demonstrate that Britain is open for business."

BA strikes
In recent months unions have threatened and in some cases carried out industrial action over certain disputes.

Unite has been involved in an on-going high profile dispute with BA over pay, working conditions and job cuts for cabin crew workers. A series of strikes have taken place, and couple that with disruption caused by Iceland's volcanic ash cloud, it sent BA £164 million into the red for the three months to June.

Talks between BA and Unite are currently being mediated by Acas to avert further industrial action in the autumn.

The Unite union has formally backed Ed Miliband MP for the Labour leadership. Ed Miliband told Channel 4 News in an exclusive interview that he wants the "BA dispute to be resolved as quickly as possible".

He said: "I'm not taking sides. I want the BA dispute resolved as quickly as possible. I hope both sides get round the table and carry on being round the table and seek to resolve it as quickly as possible. I think that's an important thing for me to say.

"I'm proud of the fact that working people up and down the country have said that they want me to be the Labour leader, because that's how these decisions have been made.

"I don't seek to intervene in the BA dispute."

Log onto the Channel 4 News website tomorrow to view the full interview with Ed Miliband

RMT industrial action threat
Just yesterday threats of tube travel disruption increased as the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) workers union voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in a row over jobs and safety.

Some 76 per cent of those RMT members taking part in the ballot voted for strike action and 88 per cent for action short of a strike.

The RMT is expected to now liaise with sister transport union the Transport Salaried Staffs' Association (TSSA), which will announce results of its own ballot next week, on the next course of action.

Both unions fear that 800 jobs coult be lost and are concerned about the potential scrapping of around 140 ticket offcier on the London Underground (LU).

RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: "RMT members have sent a clear message in this ballot that they will not sit by while the tracks are turned into a death trap and our Tube stations and platforms are left unstaffed and at the mercy of muggers, vandals and other criminal elements."

LU strategy director Richard Parry said: "The RMT leadership is once again scaremongering. Given the economic climate and the huge fall in the number of people using ticket offices we need to change and make sure we have the most efficient organisation possible to deliver value for our customers and taxpayers while maintaining our firm commitment to safety and customer service.

"There will be no compulsory redundancies, our stations will continue to be staffed at all times while trains are operating, and all stations with a ticket office will continue to have one. This vote for strike action is unnecessary; any industrial action will simply lose staff pay."

BT dispute resolved - but at a cost
Workers at BT recently voted to accept a three year pay deal work 9.3 per cent, bringing to an end months of negotiations and the real threat of industrial action.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) voted by almost nine to one in favour of the increase, which was backdated to January.

CWU Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr said: "CWU members have backed this pay deal with a strong majority which is great. It was a very hard set of negotiations including a ballot for strike action so this pay rise was very hard won.

"This pay deal provides stability and security for both staff and the company. It's within the top range of pay settlements in the UK this year and provides certainty for our members at a time of economic instability."

Ministers urged to ban strikes
Employers group the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) recently urged government ministers to consider banning strikes by workers in essential services, as the unions shaped up to take industrial action against spending cuts, such as the leaked £2 billion cuts under the Ministry of Justice department, which could see 15,000 prison and courts jobs go.

The CIPD said there are a number of "high stakes" options open to ministers to try and avoid industrial action by public sector workers.

Communication and consultation improvements were suggested, as well as building leadership and management skills. However, the CIPD said a ban on strikes should be considered to protect services if there is an upsurge in industrial unrest.

Union leaders have warned against the coalition's clampdown on public spending and cuts. The issue is expected to dominate this year's TUC Congress in Manchester next month.

Mike Emmott, the CIPD's employee relations adviser, said: "Trade unions have the power to disrupt only if employees trust them more than they trust management. The fundamental need is not to manage the trade unions it is to manage the employment relationship and communicate the case for change.

"However it is also incumbent on the Government to consider the policy options open to it for reducing the risk of disruptive and damaging industrial action by public service employees, such as banning strike action of those involved in the delivery of essential services.

"If the Government was forced to go down this route it would be a sign of its failure to make the case for change to public sector employees.

"Both sides have heavy duty weapons available to them but neither has much to gain from deploying them. Unions, Government, frontline workers and public alike have far more to gain from a strategy focused on building trust and avoiding conflict."

When asked about the political power of the trade unions, Ed Miliband told Channel 4 News: "What the trade unions want or what trade unionists want, is they want a leader who will understand the lives of working people and how they can be improved.

"That's why I've been talking about things like the living wage, that's why I've said that we got it wrong in relation to the agency workers directive and the protection that was needed for agency workers. We weren't quick enough in bringing in those protections and I think that's what working people want.

"I'm happy to say to you that I think trade unions are the cornerstone of our society. The fact that we only have 15 per cent of the private sector workforce in trade unions, I think is bad for many of the workers who are unrepresented.

"I don't think it should be a point of controversy that trade unions play an important role in giving protection to workers. I think to caricature the relationship as being somehow a return to secondary picketing, which by the way I'm not in favour of, I think it's complete nonsense."

Log onto the Channel 4 News website tomorrow to view the full interview with Ed Miliband

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