Strike threat may choke British airports August-end

August 17th, 2008 - 10:23 am ICT by IANS  

By Venkata Vemuri
London, Aug 17 (IANS) If you are planning to land in the UK between Aug 25-29 for a holiday or join a university, check before you actually depart from home. Barring Heathrow, many airports may be choked, thanks to a strike threat by baggage handlers. It is expected that up to 1.3 million people may have their holidays disrupted by strike action at two of Britain’s busiest airports next weekend.

Baggage handlers and check-in staff at Gatwick and Stansted are to stage two 24-hour strikes, including one on Bank Holiday Monday, in a dispute over pay.

The Unite union said its members would walk out on Aug 25 and Aug 29, warning that all baggage handling and check-in operations at a number of airlines would be halted. Workers at Manchester airport are likely to join the walkout while union members at Birmingham and Newcastle will be balloted over strike action.

The workers, employed by Swissport, have rejected a “paltry” 3 percent pay offer, which the union complained was well below the rate of inflation. It wants a 5 percent raise.

Over the bank holiday weekend, about 516,100 travellers will travel through Gatwick, with more than 120,000 using the airport on Aug 25 alone. Virgin Atlantic, Monarch, First Choice, North West and Oman Air will be among those affected, along with some smaller airlines, reports The Independent.

At Stansted, 300 workers employed as baggage handlers and check-in staff for easyJet and Ryanair will strike over the same two 24-hour periods, Aug 25-26 and Aug 29-30, starting at 3am on both days. About 320,000 travellers will pass through Stansted over the bank holiday weekend.

Steve Turner, Unite’s national officer, said: “Our members are already struggling to keep up with rising food and energy costs. This pay offer is an insult to professional, hard-working men and women who have to operate in extremely difficult conditions.”

A spokesman for Swissport said: “Swissport believes that a fair offer has been made to the unions in the light of the current economic climate that reflects the cost of living increase. Swissport is working with the airport operator and the customer airlines to minimise disruption.”

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