‘ISSUE A CALL TO ARMS AND ORGANISE A GENERAL STRIKE!’ – airport workers urge Unite leaders

Heathrow workers are fighting to defend their jobs, the Unite union leaders have refused to take action and are pleading with the Tories

‘UNITE said they were going to call a strike and they should have gone ahead with it. They said they were going to, but instead they allowed BA to carry on making workers redundant. We want to hear a call for action at today’s meeting.’

British Airways worker Jamil Singh was talking to News Line yesterday ahead of a mass meeting of BA GSS Ground Staff workers which has been called by Unite at Bedfont Football Ground on the outskirts of Heathrow Airport at 4pm today.

‘Please Attend, it’s about your future,’ Unite told its GSS members by email on Tuesday afternoon, adding that ‘Assistant general secretary Howard Beckett, National Officer Oliver Richardson and Assistant General Secretary Sharon Graham will be in attendance.’

BA has sacked 42,000 workers this month, telling many thousands that they are being made compulsorily redundant, while telling thousands more that they can only get their jobs back if they sign what amounts to ‘zero hours contracts’, cutting their pay and conditions to the bone.

Jamil continued: ‘The union should have called an emergency conference ages ago as soon as it knew this was coming up. We have been kept in the dark for the past five months and now it’s all been thrown at us in a huge panic and our Unite stewards told us to sign before noon on Tuesday or we’d lose our jobs.

‘We’ve had to sign up to acceptance of something that is not far off a zero hours contract, where they can cut our hours at a moment’s notice and send us home, if the business goes down they can send us home for six to eight weeks without pay, there is to be six weeks obligatory unpaid leave this winter and a 14-20% pay cut.’

Ground staff working on the ramp, responsible for aircraft movement, loading, baggage handling and winter operations, have also been warned by their union stewards that BA intends to ‘outsource’ them.

A communication from their stewards on Monday warned: ‘It appears that this could be the real reason behind plans to vastly reduce current contracts, making the movement of staff to a new company under TUPE far easier.’

Jamil told News Line: ‘Outsourcing would be a very bad thing. Heathrow is the main hub for the national carrier and it would be disgraceful if the ramp services were outsourced.

‘Unite said they were going to call a strike and they should have gone ahead with it. They said they were going to, but instead of doing so they pulled back and allowed BA to carry on making workers redundant.

‘We know that BA management is using the pandemic as an excuse to try to smash up the pay and conditions of workers. The company could have used the full resources of the job retention scheme which is going on until October, before laying off any staff.

‘The fact that they haven’t shows that their real agenda is something else entirely. They are making people compulsorily redundant. We want to hear a call for action from Unite at tomorrow’s meeting.

‘BA are setting the standards for the whole country. If they get away with fire and rehire and the imposition of zero hours contracts it will spread like wildfire.

‘Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said two weeks ago that we are moving straight to industrial action, but there has not been a squeak from him since. That is like sleeping with the enemy.’

Ground Staff worker Steve Smith added: ‘Maybe they are moving to outsource ground handling, which would mean lower wages, more restrictive terms and conditions and work-life balance going out of the window again.

‘The employers are being emboldened by the union leadership who have done nothing to resist them.

‘Unite must call an emergency conference where we can discuss the way forward. The present leadership of the union should be sacked.

‘The only thing you can do now is issue a call to arms and call for all the unions to get together – the RMT, Unite, the GMB, the nurses union, Unison, all the other unions and call a general strike.’