Crucial talks in battle to stop strike chaos at airports

Crucial talks will be held today aimed at averting the threat of strikes by airport workers which could cause travel chaos for holidaymakers before the end of the school break.

Leaders of the Unite union will meet bosses from airport operators BAA in a bid to resolve a row over pay involving over 6,000 security staff, engineers and firefighters at six airports – Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The talks, at the conciliation services Acas, follow a vote by Unite members in favour of industrial action in protest at a 1 per cent pay offer.

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Unite said its members had accepted a wage freeze last year and cooperated with changes to their pension scheme, so deserved a bigger pay rise.

The Spanish owners of BAA had also offered 0.5 per cent but this was conditional on changes to the firm's sickness agreement, said the union.

BAA said it was looking forward to the Acas meeting, adding: "We hope that we can quickly conclude an agreement, in the interests of the travelling public, our airlines and our staff, the majority of whom did not vote for a strike."

Around half of the 6,000 workers balloted by Unite voted, with 74.1 per cent of those who did opting for strike action.

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Leaders of Unite are due to meet shop stewards to decide their next move, which could lead to strike dates being announced unless there is a breakthrough at the Acas talks.

Unite said the airports would close down if strikes went ahead which would hit the travel plans of millions of holidaymakers and other passengers.

The union would have to give seven days notice of any industrial action, so strikes could be held before the end of the school holidays.

Meanwhile, thousands of British Airways baggage handlers, check-in workers and other ground staff will start voting today on whether to accept savings and job losses as part of the loss-making airline's plans to cut costs.

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The GMB and Unite have reached agreement in principle with BA regarding staffing

and working arrangements and will recommend that around 3,000 accept the deal, which involves 500 voluntary jobs losses, with 200 staff having already left, and a one-year pay freeze.

The long-running BA cabin crew dispute remains deadlocked, with further talks expected this week, although with little sign of a breakthrough.