The threat of strikes by thousands of airport workers which could potentially have caused travel chaos for holidaymakers was averted last night at the eleventh hour.
Lengthy talks between leaders of Unite and bosses from airport operator BAA led to a new pay deal which will be recommended for acceptance.
Unite said a “much improved” offer had been tabled and workers will be urged to accept the deal.
The meeting, which will be chaired by the conciliation service Acas, was held at an undisclosed location and followed a vote by Unite members in favour of industrial action in protest at a 1% pay offer.
Unite said its members accepted a wage freeze last year and co-operated with changes to their pension scheme, so they argued they deserved a bigger pay rise.
Ferrovial, the Spanish owners of BAA, offered an additional 0.5%, but this was conditional on changes to the firm's sickness agreement, said the union.
BAA said: “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% of those who did opting for strike action. Leaders of Unite are due to meet shop stewards later today to decide their next move, which could lead to strike dates being announced unless there is a breakthrough at the Acas talks.
Unite said that the airports would close down if strikes went ahead.
The union would have to give seven days' notice of any action, so strikes could be held before the end of the school holidays.
Meanwhile, thousands of British Airways check-in workers and other ground staff will start voting today on whether to accept savings and job losses as part of the airline's plans to cut costs.
The GMB union and Unite 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 job losses, with 200 staff having already left, and a one-year pay freeze.