BA staff to strike over Christmas and New Year risking cargo chaos

11 December 2020, 19:40

Unite the Union say they have “no option but to announce strike action” from Christmas Day
Unite the Union say they have “no option but to announce strike action” from Christmas Day. Picture: PA

By Joe Cook

Over 840 British Airways cargo workers at Heathrow airport will go on strike across Christmas and New Year, risking adding to the UK’s cargo chaos.

The strike would further disrupt the UK’s freight sector, as it faces challenges from the coronavirus pandemic and the Brexit transition period coming to an end on 31 December.

Despite this, Unite the Union say they have “no option but to announce strike action” from Christmas Day until the end of Saturday 2 January.

The union blamed the “continued intransigence of management” for not coming to an agreement on pay for their cargo workers.

Assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Unite has bent over backwards to give British Airways the opportunity to make a fair offer to its cargo workers and it has failed to do so.

Read more: Congestion at UK ports 'out of control' ahead of Brexit

“Our members are taking this action as a last resort. They are aware that it will cause severe disruption to air freight entering the UK but they simply can’t afford to lose a quarter of their pay.

“The company needs to withdraw its plans to fire and rehire its cargo workers and negotiate a fair deal for its cargo workers.”

Read more: Foreign Secretary plays down suggestions port delays caused by Brexit

However, a spokesperson for British Airways told LBC: “Our offer would see almost half of cargo workers’ salaries rise, with no-one else taking more than a 10 per cent pay cut. We want to resolve this, and urge the union to get back around the table.”

They added their company is “transporting critical supplies around the world, and like all airlines, has been hit hard financially by the crisis”.

Heathrow Airport declined to comment.

While the move is unlikely to affect airline passengers at Heathrow, it will add to disruption in company supply lines in the UK.

On Thursday, a cargo director at Portsmouth told LBC congestion at UK ports is "not under control" and will only get worse after the Brexit transition period expires at the end of the month.

Read more: Christmas 'chaos' at Felixstowe Port due to Brexit and Covid stockpiling

Steve Williams, an operations director at Portico Shipping in Portsmouth, said the backlog of goods currently seen at UK ports "is just the beginning".

He also warned that congestion will get worse in the build-up to, and weeks after, the transition period expiring at the end of the month which could affect delivering Christmas orders on time.

"Brexit has had an impact," he said.

"People are trying to get goods into the UK, trying to avoid paying extra tariffs or customs clearance in the new year."

He added: "It's causing a bigger backlog in the major ports so they're stuck with either empty containers or full containers with nowhere to go."

Mr Williams said: "This is just the beginning. People are saying it's under control. It isn't under control."

Read more: Boris Johnson says no-deal Brexit is now 'very, very likely'

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There is growing concern that a No Deal Brexit, which is looking increasingly likely, would only add to the chaos.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, on Friday, that it is "very, very likely" that the UK will fail to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union and leave the bloc on World Trade Organisation terms.

Meanwhile, European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen also warned that the UK and EU remain apart on "fundamental issues" in post-Brexit trade deal negotiations ahead of Sunday's deadline for a decision on the future of the talks.