BA Cargo Strike Report

Workers with the Unite union at British Airways Cargo have just completed nine days of strike action. Beginning on Christmas Day and ending on 2nd January, workers were striking in an attempt to protect their pay and conditions. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the union decided not to maintain any picket lines. British Airways are cutting staff’s pay (25% for some staff), downgrading other terms and conditions (holiday, sick etc) and breaking up their bargaining unit (making them negotiate for pay separate to the rest of BA staff). BA are also threatening to outsource their cargo operation all together. 

All this is very similar to what Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) have been doing with their staff. BA spokespeople, like HAL’s, have been telling the media that large numbers of staff on newer contracts are actually getting a pay rise out of the proposals. [1] Given the 98% return for strike action it looks as though most staff have hopefully seen through these divide and rule tactics. Like a great many workplaces at Heathrow, the divide between staff on old and new contracts is a tricky one to navigate. A cargo worker told us that although most of the newer staff walked out, there is still a feeling that they are under-represented and that the strike was mainly about protecting the old contracts. Although the old guard on the night shift stand to lose £11,000 and 20 year bods stand to lose £8,000, these are still amounts that newer starters never had in the first place. As is the case elsewhere at Heathrow, workers that have been there a long time also often occupy the easier jobs and the better shift patterns. Resentment can easily grow and just as easily derail industrial action if left unchecked. In this particular instance, it’s believed the timing of the strike at Christmas and the £70 a day strike fund, may have been enough to get newer starters on board with the strike. But any strategy that is going to last is going to need to address the inferior conditions of newer starters. Workers on these contracts need a forum where they can make their own demands. Are they going to be willing to continue a hard strike without one?

BA’s onslaught is made all the more outrageous by the fact that these workers have shipped 12,000 tonnes of PPE into the country to help deal with the pandemic. The government has awarded BA and Virgin Atlantic £150m worth of contracts between them for the PPE shipments (BA probably making up the lions share) and awarded a further £2.7m so far to BA for flying testing kits back from China. [2] The government is dishing out huge sums of money to BA, without competition, while they slash their workers pay and destroy their bargaining rights. We shouldn’t be surprised by this, but it should focus our anger to fight as hard as we can against these disgusting attacks.

Once again, Heathrow workers have shown they’re not willing to just take these attacks lying down. Compared to much of the workforce across the nation, nine continuous strike days, over the Christmas period is a bold move. It’s unclear at the moment exactly how much impact the strike has had. The management don’t appear to have reacted, and there hasn’t been any reports of severe air cargo delays or disruption. Even before the strike, delays were being reported at ports. A number of issues have been causing logjams, including a rise in imports following the end of the first coronavirus lockdown, Brexit-related stockpiling and containers filled with personal protective equipment not being collected from ports. Mountains of uncollected containers are having to be stored at huge cost and many companies have been worrying about having enough supply to meet demand over Christmas. [3] In an attempt to alleviate delays, BA were asking their customers to “unitise” their freight rather than sending it “loose.” [4] With the queues of lorries in Kent in the run up to Christmas, it was likely even more companies would be looking to move their goods by air. Cargo is the only department in the company that has managed to turn a profit since the start of the pandemic. The timing seems reasonably well-suited for the cargo workers to take strike action. We’ve heard that, although there has been some scabs crossing the imaginary picket line, only a handful of staff have been in work. Maybe 20 out of around 600. By this measure it’s been a pretty successful strike. If this strike hasn’t caused the disruption required to change the companies mind, we need to ask why.

Some of the work is probably being mopped up by companies like Dnata and Menzies. Does the union have a strategy to tackle this issue? How have BA weathered the storm? Why have we not seen reports of freight pile-ups and empty shelves? British Airways has likely enlisted the help of scab labour from somewhere and temporarily outsourced some of the work to another company. If companies can do this, what can we do to counteract it? The workers that are doing the work might not even know they are scabbing. We need to get to them and let them know. If there were areas in Heathrow that were still moving goods that would have usually passed through IAG Cargo, it could have been targeted for some kind of socially-distanced action. COVID-19 is making all these things more difficult, but we can’t just wait, in the hope it goes away. It is a tough call, but we are going to have to think of solutions.

It also raises the question of what could have been done sooner. At the start of this crisis, BA were threatening to make 13,000 staff redundant and “fire and rehire” everyone else on zero-hours contracts and people were saying nothing can be done. “No ones flying.” “BA don’t care if we strike.” This was never entirely true of the cargo division. Although passenger flights had plummeted, there was still obviously a need for goods to be flown in. The fact that IAG didn’t have dedicated cargo planes and nearly all its freight arrives in the belly of passenger planes, also presented a problem for the company. Workers we are in contact with watched BA staff hollow out Boeing 777’s, to turn them into makeshift cargo planes. Work that was needed, to keep the company running, was happening and should of been stopped until the company removed its threats. A high level of organisation is required to make this a reality, but it’s where we need to be at if we’re going to stand a chance in situations like this. The lack of a unified response and the strategy of departmental deals that was pursued by the union, has now left the comparatively powerful cargo division isolated. A combined fight back at the start, with cargo playing the pivotal role, may have been beneficial for everyone. This is all good in hindsight, but was predicted by workers we know at the time. [5]

Looking to the future, with the introduction of customs declarations on goods coming to and from Europe and extra checks on food and livestock, cargo workers everywhere may have a window in which their bargaining position is higher. Even so, it’s fairly clear that unless workers start combining their efforts across unions, companies, industries and eventually borders, we’re not going to be able to resist the bosses blitz on our conditions. Workers on the HAL picket lines in December were keen to combine their efforts with the cargo workers and even the striking Rolls Royce workers at Barnoldswick. [6] Workers can see the logic and there is a definite appetite for it. Loads of workers at Heathrow and in aviation everywhere are in the same boat. Even before the crisis, while companies have been making massive profits, most of us have been seeing our living standards squeezed. The pandemic is just accelerating the downward trend. The boards, shareholders and the management lackeys at these companies are going to be ok. Why should our fellow workers struggle to make ends meet? We don’t have to accept it. Together we can apply the pressure needed to make sure we aren’t the ones that pay for the bosses crisis. If you want to get involved with our efforts to bring this about, get in touch! 
Email:-heathrowworkers@protonmail.com

Twitter:-@heathrowworkers

Facebook:-Heathrow Workers Power

Call or text:-07340 082667

[1]https://heathrowworkerspower.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/heathrow-workers-newsletter-no-1/
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/01/ba-among-airline-firms-paid-millions-to-ferry-in-covid-testing-kits?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other
[3]https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9068741/So-THATS-shipping-containers-are.html
[4] https://www.aircargonews.net/airlines/bellyhold-airline/british-airways-asks-for-unitised-freight-to-help-alleviate-heathrow-congestion/
[5] https://angryworkersworld.wordpress.com/2020/06/22/crisis-in-the-air-where-are-the-workers-voices/
[6] https://heathrowworkerspower.wordpress.com/2020/12/13/heathrow-workers-newsletter-no-2/

STAFF HIT WITH NEW TRAVEL COSTS

Robert Barnstone

Campaign Coordinator, Stop Heathrow Expansion

On the evening of Friday 18th December, I was changing buses at Heathrow Central Bus Station – heading home on a U3 to West Drayton.

Eleven Heathrow staff boarded the bus at the same time as me, but all alighted at the Pinglestone Close bus stop, north of Heathrow on Bath Road. They all walked into the staff car park, no doubt to get their car and go home after their shift.

Whilst I paid for my journey, heading slightly further afield, the Heathrow staff did not as their journey was entirely within the Heathrow Free Travel Zone, which allows for free-flowing travel on dozens of local bus services that serve the airport and its surrounding roads – the scheme includes airport passengers, local residents and Heathrow staff.

From 1st January 2021, Heathrow will begin abolishing the Heathrow Free Travel Zone, meaning that full fares apply – £1.50 for a single journey on Transport for London routes – £3 per day for those staff members on my bus. As of 23rd December, routes that will begin charging from 1st January have not been announced.

In mid-November, Heathrow withdrew sales of the Heathrow Travelcard – another staff discount scheme from a range of destinations in counties near to Heathrow, as well as slightly further afield. Free staff travel on the airport’s premium Heathrow Express rail service will end on 30 June 2021.

The abolition of these schemes means staff will have to fork out on additional travel costs where they did not previously. Is it right that hard-pressed Heathrow staff should be forced into coughing up this extra cash just to get to work? This, of course, is in addition to the ‘fire and rehire’ schemes where staff will experience a significant reduction in pay and conditions. After what has been an unprecedented bad year, is this really what staff deserve as we enter 2021?

Meanwhile, Heathrow announced it would be introducing a vehicle access charge for those entering the terminal areas. The airport will be consulting on the precise arrangements in the near future. The new levy could entice more passengers to make their journey on public transport, which would be to the benefit of the local environment and air quality – something Heathrow claims it is committed to.

Heathrow should put its money where its mouth is and use the funds generated by this new charge to reinstate funding for the public transport schemes it is abolishing.

Stop Heathrow Expansion is campaigning to get less staff using cars to get to work and onto public transport for their entire journey, thus cleaning up our poor local air quality in areas around the airport. So, it seems a backward step to force staff to cough up extra cash to use public transport when the airport still wishes to disincentivise car use, as it must.

Peru: Air traffic controllers hold three-day strike over COVID-19 safety

Air traffic controllers across Peru began a 72-hour strike December 22. The Unified Air Traffic Controllers Syndicate (Sucta) called the strike to press controllers’ demands for greater safety measures to prevent or reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Labor and Employment Promotion Ministry declared the strike “inappropriate” because it “does not conform to the law.” The Peruvian Airports and Commercial Aviation Corporation (Corpac) claimed that it had instituted contingency plans to guarantee normal operation, but some delays and cancellations were reported. A Corpac statement asserted that its anti–COVID-19 measures are already sufficient.

The controllers are calling for a private transportation service to be used to ferry them from their homes to airport control centers as well as more testing for operational personnel. Other demands include break rooms and more spaces to rest during night shifts. The rest areas would be altered to accommodate one person instead of two, as is currently the case.

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/12/29/wrkr-d29.html

India: Air India pilots warn of ‘industrial action’ over wage cut

Disinvestment-bound Air India’s pilot unions have rejected the paltry five per cent rollback in their salary cuts and warned of “industrial action” if there is no “substantial” reversal in their paycuts.

In a joint letter to Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rajiv Bansal on Thursday, the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) said, “(The) pittance in the form of a five per cent decrease in the current wage cut is an outright insult, its sting magnified in light of our unwavering support and trust in this company.”

In April, Air India had reduced its pilots’ salary by up to 70 per cent to partially offset the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its finances.

“We have given the management every benefit of doubt as well as ample time to redress the issue of disproportionate paycut for pilots of Air India and its subsidiaries so there is no point left in mincing words.

“If we do not see a timely substantial reduction in this disproportionate paycut, we will be forced to seek justice through harsher means including ‘Industrial Action’,” the two unions said.

In the letter, the unions said, “We do not accept this paltry five per cent rollback in illegal paycut and you may advise the concerned to donate this five per cent towards funds for building the Parliament or PM-CARES (Fund).”

Right now, the “disproportionate unilateral” paycut imposed on pilots in the name of COVID-19 amounts to a gross reduction of the pilots’ rightful wages from April, the letter said.

It added, “This cut has been carefully worded to slash our wages by more than half while insulating top management from any meaningful austerity contribution such as a fair percentage cut on gross emoluments which spreads the burden fairly.”

Stating that the pilots have been been patient and shown a lot of restraint to ensure smooth flight operations and have gone above and beyond during this pandemic, the letter said. “In spite of 171 pilots testing COVID-19-positive, operations continue to run smoothly even in the face of a resurgence of an even deadlier strain of COVID-19.”

It also said that while the parliamentarians themselves have taken a cut of 30 per cent on gross emoluments and refused to take a higher cut, it is egregious for pilots “to continue tolerating this arbitrary massive paycut of 55 per cent on our gross emoluments”.

In a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri last month, the unions had said that while other airlines have restored the wages, Air India group pilots continue to get reduced salaries, up to 70 per cent lower than normal wages.

Shetlands: Strike of air traffic controllers

The control tower at Sumburgh Airport.

AIR traffic controllers at airports in the Highlands and Islands are to take industrial action over plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

Action will commence on 4 and 5 January, and it will initially consist of the withdrawal of any work relating to airport operator HIAL’s remote towers plan and the closure of local air traffic facilities.

The action will involve members of the Prospect union.

Around four in five Prospect members working as air traffic staff for HIAL said in a recent ballot that they would take part in industrial action short of a strike.

Around two thirds said they would take part in strike action.

Locally the controversial plans mean that air traffic controllers at Sumburgh would be asked to relocate to Inverness, with services carried out remotely.

Remote aviation services would also be in place in Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

The remote tower programme has also endured fierce criticism from local authorities and politicians, with the loss of local jobs a key factor.

Due to the ongoing pandemic Prospect members have decided not to take either strike action or action short of a strike, which would cause disruption to travellers or local economies.

The ballot does gives Prospect a mandate to take further action, however, including strike action at a later date.

Prospect negotiator David Avery said: “Prospect have presented a raft of evidence against remote towers, including an independent report into its viability but HIAL are pressing on regardless.

“Our members are not against change but this is the wrong plan and at a time when aviation is being decimated by the pandemic there are better things to spend taxpayers’ money on.

“Our members, working in safety critical roles, are being asked to give their time to develop a project which they don’t want, which is reduces safety, which will remove substantial money from local economies, and will make them redundant.

“Withdrawing cooperation from this project is the best way for our members to take industrial action without further impacting the communities they serve.

“HIAL and the Scottish Government have the opportunity to think again, cancel this harmful project and come up with an acceptable way to modernise services.”

A HIAL spokesperson said in response: “The fundamental purpose of any air traffic control operation is safety.

“New technology is improving the resilience of air traffic management systems around the world and we are acting now to modernise our operations to ensure they are safe and sustainable for decades to come. If we do not, we cannot guarantee services in the future.

“HIAL operates in highly regulated environment and the Civil Aviation Authority, as industry regulator, would not permit any development which compromised safety.

“This investment in a new operating model is absolutely critical to a viable future for our network and the lifeline transport services and communities that rely upon them. The current pandemic has underlined the critical role of HIAL’s airports in connecting our communities, but is has also highlighted the fragility and lack of resilience in our current air traffic delivery model.

“HIAL operates a no-compulsory redundancy policy, yet Prospect continue to sensationalise the situation claiming that 50 staff will be made redundant. This is simply not the case. We have also offered an evidence-led rebuttal of the inaccuracies in the Prospect report, and we are disappointed that this has not been recognised.

“We absolutely understand the personal impact on those affected. Our first facilitated meeting with Prospect and ACAS took place on 16 December. We will continue dialogue with Prospect and have meetings scheduled in the new year to review and agree various policies to support our air traffic colleagues during this transition.

“Prospect has advised that it is limiting its action at this time. However, any future industrial action of any kind will directly affect our passengers, as well as the communities we serve and our airlines, both already significantly impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”

A spokesperson for HIAL previously said that the remote technology will “help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future”.

The company said the plans will “modernise the way airspace is managed and, importantly, deliver safe and secure air navigation now and in the future”.

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AIR traffic controllers at airports in the Highlands and Islands are to take industrial action over plans to centralise air traffic control in Inverness.

Action will commence on 4 and 5 January, and it will initially consist of the withdrawal of any work relating to airport operator HIAL’s remote towers plan and the closure of local air traffic facilities.

The action will involve members of the Prospect union.

Around four in five Prospect members working as air traffic staff for HIAL said in a recent ballot that they would take part in industrial action short of a strike.

Around two thirds said they would take part in strike action.

Locally the controversial plans mean that air traffic controllers at Sumburgh would be asked to relocate to Inverness, with services carried out remotely.

Remote aviation services would also be in place in Dundee, Inverness, Kirkwall and Stornoway.

The remote tower programme has also endured fierce criticism from local authorities and politicians, with the loss of local jobs a key factor.

Due to the ongoing pandemic Prospect members have decided not to take either strike action or action short of a strike, which would cause disruption to travellers or local economies.

The ballot does gives Prospect a mandate to take further action, however, including strike action at a later date.

Prospect negotiator David Avery said: “Prospect have presented a raft of evidence against remote towers, including an independent report into its viability but HIAL are pressing on regardless.

“Our members are not against change but this is the wrong plan and at a time when aviation is being decimated by the pandemic there are better things to spend taxpayers’ money on.

“Our members, working in safety critical roles, are being asked to give their time to develop a project which they don’t want, which is reduces safety, which will remove substantial money from local economies, and will make them redundant.

“Withdrawing cooperation from this project is the best way for our members to take industrial action without further impacting the communities they serve.

“HIAL and the Scottish Government have the opportunity to think again, cancel this harmful project and come up with an acceptable way to modernise services.”

A HIAL spokesperson said in response: “The fundamental purpose of any air traffic control operation is safety.

“New technology is improving the resilience of air traffic management systems around the world and we are acting now to modernise our operations to ensure they are safe and sustainable for decades to come. If we do not, we cannot guarantee services in the future.

“HIAL operates in highly regulated environment and the Civil Aviation Authority, as industry regulator, would not permit any development which compromised safety.

“This investment in a new operating model is absolutely critical to a viable future for our network and the lifeline transport services and communities that rely upon them. The current pandemic has underlined the critical role of HIAL’s airports in connecting our communities, but is has also highlighted the fragility and lack of resilience in our current air traffic delivery model.

“HIAL operates a no-compulsory redundancy policy, yet Prospect continue to sensationalise the situation claiming that 50 staff will be made redundant. This is simply not the case. We have also offered an evidence-led rebuttal of the inaccuracies in the Prospect report, and we are disappointed that this has not been recognised.

“We absolutely understand the personal impact on those affected. Our first facilitated meeting with Prospect and ACAS took place on 16 December. We will continue dialogue with Prospect and have meetings scheduled in the new year to review and agree various policies to support our air traffic colleagues during this transition.

“Prospect has advised that it is limiting its action at this time. However, any future industrial action of any kind will directly affect our passengers, as well as the communities we serve and our airlines, both already significantly impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.”

A spokesperson for HIAL previously said that the remote technology will “help deliver sustainable aviation connectivity and deliver a flexible, resilient air traffic service that will be highly adaptable as we ensure our airports are fit for the future”.

The company said the plans will “modernise the way airspace is managed and, importantly, deliver safe and secure air navigation now and in the future”.

Heathrow Strike Report – Day 2

“We’re all going through the same. We should all walk out. Everyone in Unite. All over the airport.”  – Heathrow striker. 

On 14th December Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) workers had the second of their four scheduled strikes against the companies forced changes to their contracts. On the day, we went along to support the strikers on the picket lines, to speak with workers at transit hubs and have a look at what was going on at the car protest congregating at Bedfont Football Club. 

Workers talked to us about HAL’s assertion that a large chunk of the workforce on the newer contracts were actually getting a pay rise under the proposed changes. They told us that the ‘pay rise’ would be short-term because while they would get more pay at the start, the annual increments they used to get would be cut. Many workers on the newer contracts (around 60% of the total workforce) still voted to strike because they worked out that in the medium term, they would actually be losing money, as they would be stuck on the same rates of pay. They voted to strike because they could see through this sleight of hand and voted to strike even though they were getting an “increase.” We also spoke to striking workers that voted to strike although they were getting a “pay rise” now, because it was being paid for by robbing their workmates. We need to be prepared for these tactics. This is textbook stuff. We need to learn from these experiences and remember them for the future. Bosses will always rob us while insisting they are doing us a favour and do anything they can to undermine our bargaining power. 

Airside Safety workers talked about HAL training up other workers, probably management, to do the basics of their jobs and undermine the strike as part of their contingency plans. There are in total around 60 workers in the department on each shift. If all of these workers, responsible for clearing the runways from spillages and debris, would walk out, the airport operation would stop. As well as management training scabs, the problem is that as many as half of the workers in their department are not in Unite. The rest are in Prospect and PCS. Too many unions, not enough unity. Although these unions did apparently ballot their members, they failed to vote to strike. They also mentioned that their job of clearing the runway has become increasingly dangerous, as at least until recently there was less and less time between flights. If workers were better organised, could even their partial absence be an opportunity for other workers to refuse to work on health and safety grounds? Many other ways of stopping work due to H&S situations like this, could be open to a workforce that is prepared and ready to take meaningful industrial action. 

A big issue within the dispute is the removal of the abatement clauses in staffs contracts. This clause stated that if HAL made a worker above a certain age redundant the company would have to pay out their pension early. This was good protection against unnecessary redundancies. Workers suspicions have now been proved correct as now the new contracts have been imposed, without the abatement clauses, HAL is beginning make staff redundant they probably wouldn’t have with the clause still in place. 

A striking worker we spoke to was frustrated at how long the dispute has dragged on before they have been able to strike. And like ourselves, wonders what should/could have been done in the lead up to the strike ballot. The striker said the companies intentions were clear at the start, “they knew what they wanted to do.” But unions are constrained by appearing reasonable at the negotiating table and jumping through the legal hoops required to get to industrial action. What other forms of direct action could be deployed, to apply pressure sooner in our disputes? 

A rep we spoke to talked about how the pandemic has effected their ability to organise and communicate with the members. He said that although they couldn’t get together in large groups, in person, he said they probably managed to get more in one place than they would otherwise have been able to via Zoom. He did say that there is a drop in the quality of the meeting but it was good to have so many staff “connected.” Communication is key in these disputes. Online meetings may be a helpful tool for us in the future, but they also have major drawbacks. More than one worker we spoke to talked about feeling isolated when the decision of whether to sign the new contract or not, presented itself. They were advised not to sign, but it is an extremely tough call to make when you are unsure what everyone else is doing. Mass, in person, meetings are possibly irreplaceable for this. Physically being present when all your fellow workers openly commit to an action, is a lot more reassuring than hearsay or assertions on Teams. If the pandemic lingers on we’re going to have to think of solutions. And we shouldn’t just leave it to the reps and union leadership to figure out. Workers need to talk, plan and strategise if we’re going to achieve our aims. 

We had an interesting conversation with a Terminals Security worker at Central Bus Station. Terminals Security did not vote to strike. This worker was furious his fellow workers didn’t vote to strike. He said this would have made the strike so much more successful. He will be losing £5000 and couldn’t explain why his department didn’t vote to strike. This contradicted what we’d heard the previous week when a rep told us that Terminal Security staff had actually been given a pay uplift.He felt disappointed that workers didn’t stick together more. He said some people just haven’t got the guts for it. But also said some workers talk about being let down by the union in the past. We spoke about unions not doing themselves any favours sometimes and he blamed this on the leadership. He said they don’t listen to the reps on the ground and just go off and do their own thing. We heard at the previous strike (1st Dec) that Terminals Security were given a better deal than other departments, but this worker wasn’t aware of it. A Campus Security worker on the pickets suggested that Terminals Security didn’t vote to strike because there is far more new starters that aren’t as adversely effected as longer serving staff. 

Whatever the reason, the absence of Terminals Security and many other workers from the strike is a big problem. We spoke to contractors at the Bus station (Menzies and others) that didn’t even know a strike was happening. “What strike, everyone is working…..” The flight schedules in the morning of the strike recorded no disruptions to takeoffs or landings. Other media sources also declared no disruption at the airport. A rep we spoke to says this was partly due to Heathrow rearranging flights when the strikes were announced, so as to avoid cancelled flights on the boards. However much disruption the strike did cause, it appears clear that it needs to be a great deal more. 

Everyone we spoke to was aware that BA Cargo had voted to strike and set dates over the Christmas period. Everyone was also keen to find ways of linking the struggles up. They sympathised heavily with the Cargo workers stating they were aware of extra work they were taking on recently, operating the bridges that used to be done by the turn-around crews. They also appreciated that, like themselves, they were being treated with utter contempt and disrespect. Workers also liked the idea of a solidarity action to support the Rolls-Royce workers at Barnoldswick. There is sites around Heathrow that could be targeted. 

We would also ask how do we make sure these acts of solidarity aren’t just symbolic. That they aren’t just protests that powerful folk can easily ignore. The car protest on the 14th Dec being a prime example of a symbolic, easily ignorable action. Speeches from MPs and calls on government for help can’t be the solution. Workers planning and carrying out actions that really make the bosses sweat, is the only thing that has ever achieved meaningful positive change. And it’s the only thing likely to get us out of these constant defensive battles and onto the front foot. We’ve heard, in a great many disputes recently, union officials saying that “we’re hoping the company bosses, come to their senses, and do the right thing…” As if we are dealing with decent moral humans, that just need to realise they aren’t being “fair.” We are not. We are dealing with companies that seek to maximise profits and market share above everything. Remaining aware of this will enable us to focus more clearly on the type of tactics and strategies that will help us achieve our goals. If we ever wish to have the dignity and respect that comes from controlling our daily lives, we will need start by controlling and changing the way we struggle. Heathrow Workers Power is creating a space where the discussions necessary to make this change can happen. If you like where we’re coming from and want get involved, get in touch. 

Email

heathrowworkers@protonmail.com

Twitter

@heathrowworkers

Facebook page

Heathrow Workers Power

Call or Text

07340 082667

Heathrow Strike Report – Day 1

“Did you see the HAL lot out Monday? It’s out of order what the company is doing to them. Totally support them. I was called off another job to go over to central and cover in case of emergencies.”
Heathrow contractor.

“I’ve seen communities torn apart when their industries are destroyed overnight. I don’t think people around here realise what’s coming down the tracks, unless we start getting our act together.”
Heathrow worker from South Wales.

On the 1st December, Heathrow Airport Limited (HAL) staff took part in the first of four strikes against the company’s attacks on their pay and conditions. It was great to see workers, in these tough times, in the middle of a pandemic that has hit their industry so severely, willing to stand up to their bosses, take a further hit to their pay packet, and muster the bravery required to go on strike.

It was also heartening to hear some of the reasons they gave. One striker said, “As well as protecting our pay, we’re doing this to try and set an example to the youngsters coming through. They need to see that you don’t just roll over when the company attacks your contract….” Another said, “When the airport sneezes everywhere else catches a cold. Heathrow sets a benchmark for pay and terms and conditions. We have to try and maintain a high standard for workers elsewhere as well….” This is a good example of the sense of purpose and the common good, that often ends up getting people out on strike. We aren’t all the greedy, calculating, money grubbers our bosses would like us to be. Most of us are decent individuals concerned about our wider community. One worker talked about the history of the last strike, which was carried out by engineers to protect the apprenticeship scheme in 1976. A strike with a long-term vision of how to protect their jobs and keep them skilled that has paid off in the long-run. The scheme still exists.

During the 45-day negotiation that followed HAL’s proposed “fire and rehire” program, the company kept moving the goalposts and weren’t budging, even though the union put forward four of their own cost-cutting counter-proposals. In doing so, the union can say, ‘look at us, we’re the reasonable ones here.” This has become commonplace at a time when the right-wing press is so powerful and the unions so demonised that this kind of PR is supposedly necessary to temper it. We would question this approach more generally. The union itself has said that the company is using the pandemic to push through changes that they’ve always intended to make. This is quite clear if we look at the company’s past actions when they’ve tried to make cuts and divide the workforce – all when profits kept on increasing. In the end, we think the union’s counter-proposals to co-manage the cuts have more negative effects than positive ones: the negotiations drag on for longer, the union are seen as co-managers of cuts to T&Cs, the right-wing press will always hate strikers and unions regardless of their attempts to appear like ‘reasonable’ partners at the negotiating table, and the end result is the same anyway.

Strike action has not stopped the imposition of the new contracts (the first strike was held on the 1st December as a symbolic gesture because this was the day the new contracts came into force). In this sense then, the strike has already come too late. The union has to stick to their recognition agreement and jump through all the hoops contained in it to avert a strike, which is why the whole thing takes such a long time. In this situation, the union’s strategy is often to try and use the individual grievance procedure. This is a way to voice their discontent at the same time as overwhelming the HR capacities of the company. However, in this instance, HAL would not recognise the staff’s individual grievances against the imposition of contract changes, insisting instead that it was a collective matter to be dealt with through the union.

It has taken Unite five months to organise a consultative ballot and then a strike ballot, which isn’t too bad in relative terms (no other unions at the airport have even managed this, although for some like PCS, they didn’t get enough support from workers to go ahead). The strike ballot had a 85% return in favour of strike action, which is a swinging mandate. British Airways Cargo staff, also with Unite, balloted much later, so their strikes won’t coincide. Another missed opportunity. A further setback occurred when HAL offered Terminals Security staff, a department with a large chunk of the workforce in it, and whose strike participation really could have shut the airport down, a 5-7% pay increase in an attempt to make sure they didn’t vote to strike. They succeeded. This is an extremely common company tactic to divide workers. This was possibly aided by the fact that, legally, airport security departments have to return a higher amount of votes for them to be allowed to go on strike. The fact that different departments vote to strike as a department, rather than a larger collective bargaining unit, would also be in the recognition agreement, and severely limits the ability of workers to act collectively.

It’s unclear exactly how much disruption the strike caused to the operation at Heathrow. Since the strike, we have spoken with contractors that were called into Heathrow to cover the striking workers. HAL said they had contingency plans in place and this was surely part of it. The contractors are sympathetic to the HAL staff but are not unionised and would be worried about being disciplined if they refused to scab. Given the opportunity, workers could come up with creative solutions to this issue in the short term, but don’t we also need a long-term strategy for how we go about building the kind of unity amongst workers required to make strikes effective?

The problem was highlighted at the pickets themselves. One of the three pickets had reps that were confident in speaking with supporters that arrived to wish them well and ask them questions. The other pickets did not, and one was actively hostile to people coming to offer support. We can only assume that workers on the pickets had been given instructions by the union to not speak with bystanders, to only allow senior reps to talk, or to divert people to the press office. This shows a serious lack of confidence in the union for its members and also for its campaign. What are they worried their members will say, exactly? And why do they think their campaign is so fragile that a conversation at a picket line could in some way derail it?

The pickets also appeared to suffer from issues imposed by the current laws surrounding industrial action. Pickets are to have no more than 6 workers at a time. Looking at the HAL pickets on Dec 1st, with only 6 workers penned off from supporters by steel fences, it was hard not to see them as a bit gloomy. This is also transparently the reason the laws have been written the way they have. There must be ways round this. Around the time of the last BA cabin crew strikes, even though the strikes were still unfortunately largely symbolic, at least the pickets were quite a spectacle. Well attended, extremely noisy, homemade flags, banners, music and dancing. Not sure if these were registered as demonstrations or pickets but there were certainly more than six people there and were all the better for it.

Unite staged a photo opportunity outside the Heathrow Unite offices at which they unveiled a mobile billboard depicting HAL CEO John Holland-Kaye as the grinch. The attendees were mainly press, senior shop stewards and an MP. There was hardly any striking rank-and-file workers present. One woman, whose husband was on strike, was very critical of the union’s strategy, which she called ‘uncoordinated’, and thought more workers from across the airport should be out on strike at the same time. “Where are the workers?”, she complained, to nobody in particular. “And why aren’t unions working together?” She also berated the union for investing all their energies in the media campaign. Union campaigns today do indeed appear to place far too much emphasis on PR – for rather scant media coverage at best, which is not surprising, because it’s not terribly exciting. Photo opportunities and appeals to government are the main levers of the campaign, in place of the main thing that normally “wins” battles like these: mass worker participation in the planning of, and carrying out of, strikes, protests, blockades, sit-ins, marches on the boss etc.

A question workers should also be grappling with is what would/should “winning” look like? At times, not just at Heathrow but everywhere, it seems as though workers are, at best, just managing our own decline. Decline in pay, conditions, skills, control. The pattern regularly goes as follows: bosses make an attack on some aspect of our workplaces; for those lucky enough to work somewhere with a union, the union and some workers make some kind of fuss to show they’re not happy, and then the bosses make a concession that they were probably always more than prepared to make in the first place. And so it goes, from workplace to workplace, up and down the country and across much of the world. Companies are at war with their workers, but the lack of an effective and substantive counter-strategy is glaringly obvious.

We’re not saying that there aren’t any acts of resistance happening in various forms, but that there are still far too few unified and coordinated rank-and-file responses to common problems. Heathrow is chock full of workers faced with similar, if not exactly the same problems. There are countless opportunities for workers to collaborate across unions, companies and professions, yet it rarely happens. Why are workers and their unions so reluctant to work together these days? You would think that the legal barriers in place that are designed to curb workers’ power would force us to try alternative ways of getting around them. The answer is obviously complex and not reducible to this or that workplace or union.

This begs the question: Is the workforce nowadays too divided for unions to have any real teeth? If so, where does this leave us? It will be interesting to see how what has been labelled the new ‘winter of discontent’ will play out in the next few months. There are impending strikes by BT, Rolls Royce, BA and Eddie Stobart. While strikes might be on the increase, this alone won’t be a good indicator of an uptick in workers’ confidence and power. This is why we want to take a closer look at the content of these strikes. How are they being organised? How are workers’ voices and decision-making a part of it? Are there promising tendencies where workers are more in control of their own struggle? If anyone has any insights to share on any upcoming struggle in this regard, please share it. Not to undermine the struggles, but to provide an honest assessment of the situation and where we need to improve. We can be sure that as long as strikes remain hollow shells, as long as they remain isolated within their own companies or departments, and if most workers remain spectators rather than participants in the running of these strikes, the chances of them improving the general situation for the working class is slim.

Any strike to defend our conditions is necessary. If we can manage to control our own struggles, we can ask the question, who controls society. Key workers have managed to pull society through the pandemic – the supermarket shelves were refilled, the sick were cared for, the water and heating kept running. We survived a ‘natural calamity’ and now we are supposed to suffer from a ‘man-made’ one: a crisis in the form of pay and job cuts. How to handle the fallout from this pandemic should be the decision of the workers and the communities affected, not handfuls of rich managers and shareholders. If we took control of our workplaces and the technology and infrastructure that keeps them running, we would make better use of them. We could abolish bullshit jobs and all work much less. We could finally re-organise society in the interest of everyone and future generations. The struggle at Heathrow seems far away from this goal, but it is a small step forward. In the meantime we should say no to job and pay cuts and yes to a reduction of working hours, at the same rate of wages.

Unite’s campaign strategy is that the December strikes are here to show HAL that they have a disgruntled workforce that will be fighting for their pay and benefits back when more planes are in the air and their bargaining position has improved. The anger and momentum will need to be sustained until the aviation situation improves. Something that is tricky to do when there is no immediate impact of the union’s current actions. So where should this momentum come from? We’re interested in finding out how fellow Heathrow workers are supporting these efforts. We want to think about the possibilities of linking this dispute up with other struggles in aviation and beyond. If efforts could be pooled and workers united in greater numbers to resist against the bosses attacks, would we have to wait until more planes are taking off before we “really” start fighting back? We hope our independent Heathrow Workers’ Power newsletter can be a space to think about these kinds of questions. We welcome your contributions! The next three strikes are scheduled for December 14th, 17th and 18th. Up the workers, and see you on the picket lines!

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https://heathrowworkerspower.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/heathrow-workers-newsletter-no-1/

Nigeria: Workers ground Arik Air operations in protest

Arik Air operations were on Thursday grounded by the National Union of Air Transport Employees over poor working conditions.

The workers blocked the entrance of the airline’s headquarters, carrying placards with different inscriptions.

Some of the inscriptions read, “End Arik brutality,” and “Sign our condition of service and recall all staff.”

They alleged that several members of staff had been furloughed, adding that pensions were being owed.

State Secretary, NUATE, Ijeh Anthony, explained that the issue had lingered for long, vowing to continue the strike till all demands were met.

He said, “The contentious issue is the signing of the conditions of service which we have been negotiating for the past three years.

“But the only aspect remaining in the CoS is the issue of the severance package. We have sought interventions from the Ministry of Aviation, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.

“However in most discussions, Arik Air Management will always renege.”

Anthony stressed that the management decision to operate with lesser staff was also part of the reasons for the strike.

He said, “At the beginning of the lockdown, Arik Air management decided to send 80 per cent of their workforce on compulsory leave and in the process of engagement, they agreed to pay 20 per cent of their salaries for all those workers involved.”

He added, “All other airlines have called their workers back post COVID-19 but Arik Air workers have decided to run on 20 per cent while 80 per cent are still at home.

“The pressure now is that workers at home are now agitating. The flight frequencies have increased, we have higher fares and we are opening new routes, so why are you keeping us at home?

Ghana: Aviation workers threaten strike over pay cuts

https://www.modernghana.com/news/1047394/aviance-ghana-workers-threaten-strike-over-half.html

Workers of Aviance Ghana are threatening to go on strike next month after being forced to continuously overwork while taking home half salary since the lockdown period from March till date. 

Eight months ago when the airport was shut down for passenger planes as a precautionary measure to curb the importation of the Coronavirus disease, workers of the company that operates at the Kotoko International Airport witnessed a pay cut with some unlucky ones laid off without any allowance. 

While those who stayed on accepted the pay cut because of the situation the Covid-19 had caused, they are now feeling agitated the conditions have not reverted to normal in a period where passenger and cargo aircrafts are now flying in every day. 

According to sources, there have been no increase in salary for workers in the past 2 years and staff who stayed on during the lockdown didn’t benefit from any incentive. 

At the moment, there is an increase in staff reporting sick due to the fact that they are overworking beyond their normal working hours. To their surprise, managers and department head show no concern. 

Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised in the way and manner employments are being made. Per information gathered, a recruiting agency working with the firm is scamming and taking huge sums of money from persons looking for employment. In the end, vulnerable ladies are cornered and slept with before given jobs. 

Workers say that if no action is taken then they will embark on sit-down strike in December. 

Below is the full concerns raised by some of the workers under very tight conditions of anonymity: 

HAPPENINGS AT AVIANCE GHANA

RECRUITMENT

Aviance Ghana used to recruit directly by following the HRM procedures until 2016. When the company started recruiting through some recruitment agencies s that collect huge sums of money from applicants after even going through some 3months training with not less than GHC 2000.00 as fees. This is serious 419 way of collecting moneys from the general public since getting job now is to difficult. As we speak now over thousand applicants are been deceived of employment after going through all processes. 

Under same recruitment those employed through these agencies also went through some difficulties, Managers collected monies from some of the applicants before scheduling them for interview, some of the females also had their jobs in exchange of sex especially those recruited from RAKES agency. Most of the Aircraft cleaners and loaders are victims.

APPEARANCE aircraft cleaners

MD you can recall that in our first episode I made mention of some managers taking moneys and sleeping with some of the girls before employing them. And their agreement was they were promised heaven but after they were employed they saw it was all lies. This was perpetrated by Nana Asore, Eben Adhei and Mr. Eben Darko. As we reach you we have talk to them to hold on until we communicate to you otherwise they wanted to appear on a Radio Station who show case such incident and also tries to help them legally but we have calmed them down for your action. (for both casual /permanent) 

OPERATIONS

There are big problems in this department. We are now convinced that when the woman was heading as a manager we saw the successes but now its too bad. Ernest could not handle the office or department because he was not fair and firm. We were not surprised when we heard you have entrusted the heart of the company into the hands of Mr. Eben Darko, who has no respect for staff no matter your age or your issue. He watched, hunted for this position with the support of your secretary who is going out with Mr. Eben Darko and tried to influence you and Addy to do the perported swap very bad. Go round and solicit for views and it will interest you of what you will hear in your ears. The operations guys are all not happy with him because, he doesn’t respect them at all. 

A staff was admitted at 37 military hospital, where COVID suspected cases were handled this was reported to your managers whilst you were in UK due to the airport closure but managers never made even a phone call to either, the staff or the family, and mark this is our way of culture. A staff fell ill seriously ill on duty when Eben Darko was called at home it took him over 4 hours and the staff has to chance under the support of colleagues and friends ask the operations guys. 

ADMINISTRATION

There is a power war managers don’t trust themselves and their all pretending of working / managing well. Watch this man very well Mr. Ben Johnson. He is a waste in the company he is agitating the workers by bullying staff on the field. How can you meet a group with mixed tribal relation and begin to speak in his language with his tribal affiliations. Very bad. Ramp manager comes to work not to manage the ramp but rather engage the staff with frightening information, He issued a notice that workers should not discus, ask anything concerning staff welfare even busing issue and that when you fall victim He the ramp manager will fire you. 

HR DEPARTMENT 

Please, MD we noticed Mr. Twentoh was on the truck but now it seems he is also loosing truck and focus. Before Mr. Twentoh the then HR was given positions to staffs based and your affiliation with him. This made staff losing interest in attending interviews for position or promotion for instance upon what criteria did those who selected our ramp supervisor and the RDMs on probation. This was done by Nana Asore and with the support of Eben Adjei. 

Due to this ramp staff are calling these guys names like RM babies. Some qualify but some too are nowhere to write home about. Some even insult staff at briefings and on the field especially one called Richie acting ADM. 

HR kindly sit up because the eyes that watched Mr. Ntiamoah is also watching YOU. 

The General manager Addy also calls for meetings with his manager and quote “what I have told you is final and nothing else” says Addy. managers are complaining. Mr. Addy is now been racist. Same to James Chambel and as for him James he also a waste to the company. 

Please we were promised a salary structure but now both MD and HR are running away from the truth to the extent that because our union the order of the day that anytime will refer staff to union just because they know the weakness of the union both junior and senior God is watching you all. 

WORKERS BENEFIT

Salary was slashed to 50% since March, 2020. Which was understood because normal passenger planes were not coming, but only cargo planes and chartered flight for UN officials? But now at the airport all planes are coming and staff strength was reduced just to save cost during the lockdown the contract staffs were laid off without any allowance. Now that all planes are coming still same reduced staff strength, same 50% salary, we are working more than the required hours, No overtime allowance. There is increase in staff reporting sick DUE TO OVER USE OF STAFFS. THERE WAS NOTHING FOR STAFFS DURING THE LOCKDOWN, NO SALARY INCREMENT SINCE 2YEARS. 

CONCLUSION 

IF no action is taken then staffs are ready and preparing to embark on sit-down strike within DECEMBER.

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