Nick Abbot 10pm - 1am
Gatwick airport set for 'inevitable' summer holiday chaos as staff announce eight days of strikes
14 July 2023, 14:44 | Updated: 14 July 2023, 18:47
Nearly a thousand Gatwick workers are to strike for eight days over the summer holidays amid ongoing pay disputes, Unite union has announced.
Baggage handlers, check-in staff and ground staff are among those expected to participate in the industrial action over July and August.
The first set of strikes are to set to start on Friday 28 July until Tuesday 1 August, and the second set between Friday 4 August and Tuesday 8 August.
British Airways, EasyJet, Ryanair, Tui, Fizz, Westjet and Ryanair are the airlines expected to be hit by the industrial action.
A spokesperson for Gatwick said “contingency plans” will be put in place to help ensure as many flights as possible are able to run as normal - but Unite union said delays, disruption and cancellations were “inevitable”.
The staff planning to strike work across four private firms, rather than Gatwick itself, they are: ASC, Menzies Aviation, GGS and DHL Services.
These companies outsource operations such as ground handling, baggage handling and check-ins for airlines.
Unite union said despite talks taking place since January, they have failed to reach an agreement.
The union's general secretary Sharon Graham said: "Our members at Gatwick Airport undertake incredibly demanding roles and are essential to keeping the airport and airlines working, yet their employers somehow think it is acceptable to pay them a pittance.
"As part of Unite's unyielding focus on the jobs, pay and condition of its members, the union has drawn a line in the sand and is committed to eradicating the scourge of low pay at the airport."
The union claimed most workers earn less than £12 an hour, “despite undertaking highly demanding and safety critical roles”.
Gatwick is the busiest single-runway airport in the world, but due to air traffic control (ATC) restrictions amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, the airport is already experiencing major disruptions.
Earlier this week EasyJet announced 1,700 summer flights were to be cancelled due to ongoing ATC issues.
A Gatwick spokesperson said: "We are aware of the recent ballot result and will support our airlines with their contingency plans to ensure that flights operate as scheduled."
Addressing the strikes, Rishi Sunak said: “It's not for me to dictate to private companies what pay they set their staff.
"Obviously they will rightly decide what is appropriate. I think, again, across the board, we've seen wage increases in the private sector of around five to 7% on average. And obviously that's in line with the (public sector pay) increases that we accepted yesterday."
It comes after the government announced on Thursday it would be implementing pay increases between five and 7% for staff across the public sector.
Unite members working in security at Gatwick also secured a 16% pay increase last month.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of Advantage Travel Partnership, said: "With the UK school summer holidays upon us, the threat of striking by Gatwick Airport staff is yet another blow to the industry and will be further disappointing news for those who are looking to travel over the coming weeks.
"The airports are sure to be extremely busy throughout July and August and, without doubt, if these strikes go ahead it will cause anxiety to travellers and potential disruption to their travel plans."
A total of 4,410 flights are scheduled to depart on the days of the strikes, according to aviation analytics firm, Cirium.