ALEX BRUMMER: How dare unions and £200k pilots threaten to ruin our summer holidays

Of course we should have expected no less, given their disgraceful record for staging strikes at times that most damage people’s daily lives.

But, predictably, the unions have chosen the coming weeks — just after schools break up — to hold a series of walk-outs that will sabotage family holidays.

And, even worse, it’s not just one airport that will be affected.

Predictably, the unions have chosen the coming weeks — just after schools break up — to hold a series of walk-outs that will sabotage family holidays. Pictured: Heathrow Airport

Predictably, the unions have chosen the coming weeks — just after schools break up — to hold a series of walk-outs that will sabotage family holidays. Pictured: Heathrow Airport

Predictably, the unions have chosen the coming weeks — just after schools break up — to hold a series of walk-outs that will sabotage family holidays. Pictured: Heathrow Airport

Staff who work at several UK airports and a number of airlines have announced strikes, or are currently voting on whether or not to take industrial action.

The Unite union, led by Jeremy Corbyn crony Len McCluskey, has said it will ‘shut down’ Heathrow airport on six days over July and August in a down-tools involving 4,000 workers — including engineers, drivers and security guards.

At Gatwick, staff are voting on whether or not to strike over what Unite claims are ‘poverty pay rates’.

Employees at easyJet check-in desks at Stansted Airport have announced 17 days of strikes.

Meanwhile, British Airways (BA) pilots are voting on whether to strike after pay negotiations stalled. 

The battle between BA and the pilots’ union, Balpa (which is believed to have fallen under the control of a generation of more radical leaders), is nowhere near being solved despite lengthy talks.

Expense

On offer to the 4,500 pilots is a pay deal worth 11.5 per cent over three years in addition to improvements to generous expense allowances.

To many the idea of pilots, some of whom earn £200,000 a year or more for flying longer-haul routes, striking against travellers (on average full-time salaries of £36,611 a year) is abhorrent.

But the pilots are convinced they deserve more — having seen that BA’s owner, International Airlines Group, which also owns Iberia and Aer Lingus, achieved profits of £2.89 billion last year.

Initially, other unions with BA staff, including GMB and Unite, agreed to support the pilots but have now recommended that their members accept BA’s pay offer.

For their part, union leaders claim the profits made by airport owners and airlines are excessive, that bosses are overpaid and that ground staff and pilots should have a bigger share of the spoils. 

Families told not to travel to strike-bound airports or who find themselves stranded in concourses will angrily ask why workers are acting now, at a time when, after years of austerity, Britain’s jobs market has never been better.

Profits

Unemployment is at its lowest level since the early Seventies, at 3.8 per cent. Wages are rising at 3.6 per cent a year — appreciably above inflation — and at the fastest rate for 11 years.

Yet McCluskey and his band of Bolshie brothers — clearly intent on taking on the Tory Government as well as airport bosses — seem determined to close down the country’s busiest airports at the busiest time of the year.

For once, though, it is not just the unions who are to blame.

For the greed of airport bosses and of the private equity and foreign owners of UK airports is a major factor. 

Many bosses receive controversial financial packages and airport owners are ruthlessly ramping up profits.

Heathrow chief executive John Holland-Kaye was given a pay rise of 103.2 per cent last year — receiving £4.2 million. 

When the Prime Minister’s salary is £150,402 it is hard to see how he can be worth more than 25 times what she gets.

Equally galling for airport staff and the flying public is that Heathrow’s overseas-based owners received a £500 million dividend after the airport took record revenues of £3 billion.

Over the last seven years the owners — including the Qatar Investment Authority, Singapore-based GIC, the China Investment Corporation and Spain’s Ferrovial — have extracted £3.5 billion from the once UK state-owned enterprise.

Bonus

It’s not just Heathrow. A senior executive at Stobart Group, which owns Southend Airport in Essex, is potentially in line for a £30 million pay-out.

No wonder Unite regional officer Mark Barter described the deal as a ‘scandal . . . that leaves a very sour taste for our low-paid members’.

The potential bonus for the executive, Warwick Brady, has also been condemned because it had been kept secret and not put to a shareholder vote. Stobart’s former chief executive, too, has raised concerns about the bonus scheme.

British Airways (BA) pilots are voting on whether to strike after pay negotiations stalled

British Airways (BA) pilots are voting on whether to strike after pay negotiations stalled

British Airways (BA) pilots are voting on whether to strike after pay negotiations stalled

The belief that huge pay deals are an abuse of free market capitalism naturally gives ammunition to Labour as it demands that national utilities and key infrastructure owners should be taken back into public control.

The truth is that private companies’ inability to share the proceeds of success more widely and to invest more profits into the business is a huge failing by greedy owners and investors.

The UK having become a laughing stock abroad for not solving the issue of Heathrow’s third runway, investment in this country’s airports could not be more vital. 

Now the world’s seventh-largest airport faces being shut down — not only leading to wrecked holidays but delivering an enormous blow to the UK economy.

Heathrow is the airport most used by the business community and its convenience is a major factor contributing to the City of London’s success as a world financial centre, and the decision of digital giants such as Google to build new European HQ campuses in the UK.

Compounding problems for passengers during this nightmare summer is the fact that there is no obligation for airlines to pay compensation for delays or cancellations on strike days.

For the Civil Aviation Authority has judged that strikes are an ‘extraordinary circumstance’.

If that weren’t enough, airports are playing their usual peak-holiday trick of hiking parking charges.

In August, it will cost £89.99 to park a car for seven days at Stansted’s JetParks facility or £104 at the short-stay park. 

Yet in early October, the same stay would be £45.99 and short stay parking would be £70.

No wonder Visit Britain, the national tourism agency, has urged people to take a holiday at home.

All that said, the unions should hang their heads in shame for trying to score political points and make summer miserable for millions of families who want to fly abroad.

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