Luton Airport staff 7-day strike

Striking Luton airport workers on the picket line. They are now on a week-long action

BAGGAGE handlers and check-in staff employed by GH London Ground Handling Services at Luton Airport have voted for strike action over the company’s decision to impose a pay freeze on hard-working staff.

A week-long strike will commence on Sunday 3rd March at 6:00pm until Sunday 10th March at 5:59pm.

96 per cent of the workers who took part in the ballot voted in favour of strike action.

Since Unite submitted a pay claim at the beginning of 2018 the workers’ representatives have been calling for talks.

Now that workers have overwhelmingly backed strike action the company has requested talks which the union hopes will be constructive and meaningful.

GH London provides ground-handling services to Wizz Air which is a low-cost airline serving mainly Central and Eastern Europe with around 42 routes from Luton Airport.

Unite regional officer Jeff Hodge said: ‘Unite has been calling for meaningful talks with GH London since the beginning of 2018.

‘This strike vote is a result of the company’s failure to listen to its workforce who face a cut in their living standards.

‘Now that the company is prepared to meet, we hope we can get constructive talks underway to resolve this dispute.

‘Luton Airport is one of the busiest airports in the UK. A strike by baggage handlers and check-in staff will cause considerable disruption to flights.

‘It is time for GH London to recognise the contribution workers make by increasing pay so they can keep up with the rising cost of living.’

Meanwhile, the proposed expansion of Luton Airport is both ‘unsuitable’ and ‘unsustainable’, an MP has claimed.

Bim Afolami, Tory MP for the wealthy constituency of Hitchin and Harpenden, said growth would be ‘Bedfordshire’s gain – Hertfordshire’s pain’ in terms of noise and pollution.

The airport, owned by Luton Borough Council, published its ambitious growth plan in December.

It wants to reach its 38m passenger target by 2050 with 240,000 flights a year using its one existing runway.

Afolami says he is ‘not against airports’ and ‘recognises the jobs and economic growth the airport brings to the UK and to Luton.’

However, ‘the proposed expansion to more than double Luton’s passenger numbers is both unsuitable to the local area and unsustainable in the context of the constraints that exist in rural Hertfordshire.

‘Luton is just not the right place for an airport of the proposed size of 38m passengers,’ he said.

Anti-noise campaigners say the upgrade ‘will fail to reduce noise’, but the Luton Airport authority said it had applied for additional flight restrictions.

Andrew Lambourne, the chairman of Luton And District Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (LADACAN), said: ‘The airport has failed to deliver on its promises in 2013 to reduce noise.

‘The situation has now got so bad that it’s in breach of a key planning condition controlling the noise footprint, and is preparing to ask for it to be set aside for five years rather than actually solving the problem.

‘Flights have increased by 90% on a key route.

‘Commercial gain is trumping any kind of environmental responsibility at Luton.’

The Bedfordshire airport has been named the worst airport in the UK for the third year running.

It received a customer satisfaction score of just 35 per cent in an annual study by consumer group Which? after being given the lowest rating for five of the 10 categories assessed.

Among the most complained about issues were toilet cleanliness and the length of baggage queues – also among the issues in the upcoming strike by the baggage handlers and check-in staff.

The airport responded to the findings by claiming that its own research found that 70 per cent of passengers were ‘happy with their experience’.

Recent analysis of Civil Aviation Authority data found that Luton is the worst UK airport for flight punctuality, with departures typically 20 minutes behind schedule last year.

London Stansted and Manchester (Terminal 3) both scored 44 per cent in the new Which? study, putting them in joint second-to-last place.

Meanwhile in another part of Bedfordshire, action over bad conditions is also underway, this time in the prisons.

A specialist riot unit was sent to a six-hour disturbance in HMP Bedford – which regulators have compared to ‘a dungeon’.

The Tornado team was deployed after the incident was reported at 14:35 GMT last  Saturday, said the Prison Service.

It was contained to one wing and resulted in no injuries to staff or prisoners, it added.

HMP Bedford was put into special measures in May after concerns over living conditions and violence levels.

A riot at the same prison in 2016 involving 230 prisoners caused £1m of damage to two wings.

Police cars were seen outside the prison on Saturday, although their attendance was precautionary and officers did not go in.

The incident was resolved by 21:00 GMT, and a Prison Service spokesman said: ‘We do not tolerate violence in our prisons and, where incidents like this occur, will always push for the strongest possible punishment for those involved.’

A report from the prison’s independent monitoring board in October said prisoners had effectively taken control at the 487-capacity men-only jail.

It found that prisoners regularly ignored rules; the smell of drugs was ‘pervading’ some wings; and the segregation unit had a ‘consistent infestation of cockroaches and a plague of rats.

‘The unit is simply appalling. It is a dungeon. These are not appropriate conditions in which to detain prisoners in the 21st Century,’ the report said.

• In Scotland more than 1,400 prisoners have had to share a single cell with another inmate.

Figures show that 12% of Scotland’s single cells have had more than one prisoner.

The Scottish Prison Service said prisoners had been in doubled-up cells – particularly at HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow – for decades.

There were 5,877 single cells occupied within the prison estate, 710 of which were doubled up.

Labour justice spokesman Daniel Johnson said: ‘Scotland’s prisons are bursting at the seams as authorities struggle to cope amid a lack of resources from the SNP government.

‘We shouldn’t have Victorian-era prisons with overcrowded cells in 2019, it is simply not acceptable.’