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Holiday plans could be hit by BAA strike

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 13 August 2010

The summer holiday plans of thousands of people were at risk today as strikes loom at six of the UK's biggest airports, owned by BAA. A passenger group told Channel 4 News the airline industry could lose consumer good will after a series of strikes this year. 

Holiday plans at risk in BAA strike

The strikes could take place as soon as Monday 23 August, just ahead of the busy August Bank Holiday weekend, after airport workers yesterday voted for industrial action.

BAA operates Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh airports. Its workers are striking in a pay dispute, the union Unite said.

If the strikes go ahead, more than 6,000 workers for BAA will go on strike. These include firefighters, security and support officers and engineers. If this happens, the airports face total shutdown.

There is a glimmer of hope for passengers, as conciliation service Acas said today it was arranging a meeting between BAA and Unite. Unite is due to decide on what form the strikes may take on Monday, leaving the weekend open for negotiations.

Brian Boyd, the Unite officer for civil aviation, said: "The clear mandate means that if strike action goes ahead, BAA faces a total shut down of its six airports, which are Heathrow, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Southampton."

The union must give a week's notice of a stoppage.

The strikes follow a turbulent first half of the year for the airline industry, which has already seen disruption due to a number of strikes by British Airways, as well as problems caused by the volcanic ash cloud.

There were more issues for some passengers today, as Birmingham-based tour operator Sun4u announced it had ceased trading.

Around 1,200 of the company's customers are currently on holiday in Spain, but travel organisation Abta said those with certain packages should be able to continue with their holidays as planned and should contact the Civil Aviation Authority, as should people who have Sun4u holidays planned in the coming weeks.  

Passengers who only used Sun4u as a travel agent to book flights may face problems.

Information for all affected customers is available here.

Advice for travellers
James Fremantle, the Industry Affairs manager for the Air Transport Users Council told Channel 4 News that passengers shouldn't panic, as the strikes could still be called off.

He said: "If you were thinking about travelling, you might want to think again, if you have not booked your flights yet. We would advise people not to book an alternative flight until they know further details. People may be better off contacting the airline to ask if flights can be rescheduled.

"We are disappointed these strikes have been called. This is more disruption for passengers. This year we have already had the British Airways strikes and the volcanic ash cloud.

"Yet again, passengers are caught up in an industrial dispute. I do wonder whether consumers will lose good will with the industry."

A BAA spokesman said: "We regret the uncertainty this vote has already caused our passengers and airline customers. We hope that the union will engage with us quickly to conclude an agreement.

"Fewer than half of those people eligible to vote have done so and we do not believe this result provides a clear mandate for strike action."

Latest information from BAA on the strikes

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".

Political reaction
Earlier the Prime Minister David Cameron said that he hoped there would not be a strike by Unite members, 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."

Mark Pilling, the editor of Airline Business told Channel 4 News the ballot for airport based industrial action is very rare and BAA has limited options.

He said: "The only contingency plans you can have in place, is a bit like BA: put people in place that can do the job. In the case of BAA it looks very difficult because striking firefighters aren't the type of people you can easily replace. You can't just train up agency staff to firefight in a short amount of time. So BAA's options look very limited.

"These roles, firefighters, security staff are absolutely safety and security critical people. No airport in the world can run without these highly trained staff.
These are roles that involve highly trained people in place, they have experience and that's what we want from them.

"None of us wants to take security lightly. The standards need to be to the highest degree. Again security officers in airports is not a job you can ship people in for who have only had a crash course in carrying out. If you did that the consequences would be dire, too horrible to imagine.

Asked about the potential disruption the BAA strikes may cause, Mr Pilling said: "First you have to look at the impact on passengers and travellers. Thousands of people a day travel from these airports, so there will be chronic disruption at the busiest time of year. The impacts on ordinary people will be absolutely disastrous.

"All disruption in the air transport is an almighty pain because it is so critical for the global economy, for people literally moving around. Unfortunately strike action is avoidable and passengers will be encouraging the two sides to sort this out quickly because it will cause huge disruption."

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