The Unite union has threatened to “shut down” Heathrow, Britain’s biggest airport, this summer after calling a series of strikes over pay.
Disruption could also occur across other London airports in separate disputes over pay and conditions, while British Airways pilots have been balloted for a strike.
Unite said that over 4,000 employees including security guards, engineers and passenger service staff were set to walk out for six days, including two of the summer’s busiest weekends, in a move that could potentially shut down the airport.
Heathrow said it would implement contingency plans to ensure the airport remained open and that disruption for passengers was minimised.
More than 80 million passengers travel through Heathrow each year and the strikes would start on what could be its busiest ever weekend, from Friday 26 July. The same period in July 2018, at the start of school holidays, saw a record 262,000 passengers in a day.
The other planned strike dates are 27 July, 5, 6, 23 and 24 August.
Unite said the dispute had escalated after Heathrow made an 18-month pay offer that would give the lowest paid an extra £3.75 a day. The union said there was deepening anger over pay disparities between workers, as well as over the pay of the airport’s chief executive, John Holland-Kaye, which doubled last year to £4.2m, while shareholders also took billions in dividends.
Heathrow said it was offering an above-inflation rise designed to help the lower paid.
Union officer Wayne King said: “Bosses at Heathrow airport need to get their heads out of the sand and start negotiating meaningfully over pay. Otherwise there will be significant disruption to flights to and from Heathrow and the potential closure of the airport over the summer months because of industrial action.”
A Heathrow spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that Unite will be taking strike action. Following this decision, we will be implementing contingency plans that will ensure the airport remains open and operating safely throughout any coordinated action.
“We will be working alongside our airline partners to minimise disruption caused to passengers as they look towards their well-deserved summer holidays.”
The latest potential disruption for holidaymakers comes after environmental activists at Extinction Rebellion suspended planned action to disrupt Heathrow this summer – although plans to fly a drone within the 5km exclusion zone, potentially closing the airport, are expected to be resurrected with a two-month notice period later this year.
This week British Airways and Ryanair warned that as well as possible airport worker strikes, holiday flights could again be disrupted by air traffic bottlenecks, staff shortages and controller strikes.
BA’s flights could be disrupted by strikes in August: the result of a pilots’ ballot is due on 22 July. Two days of talks at Acas between BA and the pilots’ union, Balpa, over a three-year 11% pay deal broke down without agreement this week.
Stansted check-in staff on Thursday announced 17 days of strikes, and Gatwick workers are also being balloted for summer strike action.
Check-in staff at London Stansted serving easyJet – which accounts for less than 10% of flights from the airport – will also strike this summer for 17 days in a dispute over pay and conditions with employer Stobart Aviation.
EasyJet said it had contingency plans in place so there would be no impact on passengers. A spokesman said: “Despite this we would urge Stobart Aviation and Unite to reach a suitable resolution as soon as possible.”
Meanwhile, baggage scanners and facility workers could also go on strike over what Unite calls “poverty pay” at Gatwick, at rates below the living wage. A ballot is under way that could lead to strikes and disruption in August at Britain’s second biggest airport.