London Heathrow Ground Handlers Begin 3-Day Weekend Strike

About 350 ground handlers at London’s Heathrow Airport are beginning a three-day strike on Friday, setting up Europe’s busiest airport for “major disruption,” according to a press release from Unite the union. The handlers are employed by aviation firm Menzies.

The press release said the strike would “lead to disruption, delays and cancellation for flights leaving Heathrow Terminals 2, 3 and 4” and would particularly affect Aer Lingus, Air Canada, Air Portugal, American Airlines, Austrian Airlines, Egypt Air, Finnair, Lufthansa, Qantas and Swiss Air.

The statement says the strike is a result of “derisory pay offers” made to the ground handlers. “All of the offers made to date are far below the current real inflation rate of 14.2 per cent (RPI) and amount to a substantial real terms pay cut,” according to the union.

“The strike action will inevitably cause serious delays for passengers at Heathrow but this dispute is entirely of Menzies own making. It has had every opportunity to make our members’ a fair pay offer, but it has stubbornly refused to do so,” said Unite regional officer Kevin Hall.

Eight hours into the strike — at noon in London — only four flights out of Heathrow had been canceled on Friday, according to the flight-tracking app FlightAware. That number may rise as the day and weekend goes on.

Staffing shortages and labor unrest at airports and airlines has been a persistent problem around the world this year. Last summer, Heathrow capped passenger volume through October as long lines and lost luggage grabbed headlines. Other European airports, including London’s Gatwick, Frankfurt and Amsterdam’s Schiphol, implemented similar caps this summer. Australia’s flag carrier, Qantas Airways, even asked senior executives to work as baggage handlers for three months amid a labor shortage.

Since the cap was lifted at Heathrow, however, volume has returned to near-normal levels and the airport recently said it was ready for its biggest Christmas in three years.

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