Page last updated at 12:14 GMT, Tuesday, 18 August 2009 13:14 UK

Holiday strike threat at airports

Check-in desk
A Bank Holiday strike by airport workers was narrowly avoided in 2008

Baggage handlers and check-in staff at three of the UK's busiest airports are being balloted for industrial action.

There are fears employees of Swissport, Rentokil Initial and ASIG at Gatwick, Manchester and Stansted could strike over the August Bank Holiday weekend.

The Unite and GMB unions are accusing the company of reneging on an agreement to give workers a 2.75% pay rise.

Swissport said it was "incurring heavy losses" during the recession and any strike action would threaten jobs.

Unions had expected workers to receive their pay rise in April under a two-year deal struck this time last year, which prevented a walk out last August Bank Holiday.

A spokesman for the GMB said the result of the ballot would be known on Friday.

'Maximum disruption'

The workers being balloted include more than 300 at Gatwick and about the same number at Manchester.

A spokesman for Unite said that under the second year of the deal agreed in 2008, they were due a minimum 2.75% pay increase.

Swissport has avoided large scale redundancies and site closures to date
Company spokesman

"But Swissport are reneging on that second-year deal," he said.

"They are saying that any pay increase needs to be self-financing, but we are saying this is a deal which has been agreed and we want them to keep to it.

"Once they initiate the deal then we will agree to negotiate and talk with them more."

A spokesman for Swissport criticised the threat of bank holiday action, which he said was "designed to cause maximum disruption".

"Swissport is disappointed to learn that, regardless of the result of a ballot that is currently being held, the trade unions, Unite and GMB, have already indicated their intention to take industrial action," he said.

"This proposed action is in support of their demand for a pay increase to all employees despite the fact that Swissport is incurring heavy losses due to a 19% reduction in flight volumes this year.

"Swissport has avoided large scale redundancies and site closures to date [and] has made every effort to minimise the impact of the current market conditions on its employees.

"Any industrial action will jeopardise such efforts and threaten future prosperity of the company and jobs."

We're confident that we are well equipped to deal with the situation
Manchester airport spokesman

'Able to cope'

A Manchester airport spokesman said: "Manchester airport is not involved in these negotiations and any action would be confined to those union members working for Swissport, Rentokil Initial and ASIG.

"The three companies are working to minimise any potential disruption to passengers and we hope that this situation is resolved as quickly as possible.

"However we're confident that as this ballot affects only 300 of the 20,000 who work here at Manchester, that we are well equipped to deal with the situation."

Unite is also balloting cleaners and aircraft-refuelling staff at Manchester airport for strike action.

On Monday, the GMB said talks aimed at averting action by workers at Liverpool's John Lennon Airport were making progress.

About 150 workers, including baggage handlers employed by Servisair, have threatened to walk out on Thursday in a row over plans to cut 23 jobs.

Swissport, which is owned by Spanish firm Ferrovial, has operations at 180 airports in 41 countries.

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