Belfast Telegraph

Talks planned in bid to avert pre-Christmas strike at 18 airports

Talks aimed at averting strikes by baggage handlers and other staff at 18 airports will be held at Acas next week.

Officials from the Unite union and aviation services company Swissport will meet at the conciliation service on Tuesday.

More than 1,500 check-in staff, baggage handlers and cargo crew are due to strike for 48 hours just before Christmas in a long-running pay dispute.

Members of Unite employed by Swissport will walk out on December 23 and 24 at Aberdeen, Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Doncaster, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Gatwick, Glasgow, Heathrow, Leeds/Bradford, Luton, Manchester, Newcastle, Southampton and Stansted.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said: "This is clearly a positive development. We are pleased that the company will sit down with us in an effort the resolve this dispute. We are confident that our members' case is extremely strong, and that fairness will prevail."

No talks have yet been arranged to try to head off a strike by British Airways cabin crew on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in a row over pay.

The airline said it was "appalled" at the decision by the Unite union and pledged to ensure its customers get to their destinations.

The row involves around 4,500 so-called mixed fleet cabin crew who joined BA since 2010.

Unite say they are on lower pay than other staff.

BA, which employs around 16,000 cabin crew, said in a statement: "We are appalled that Unite proposes to disrupt customers' travel plans on such special days when so many families are trying to gather together or set off on well-deserved holidays. This calculated and heartless action is completely unnecessary and we are determined that it will fail.

"We will plan to ensure all our customers travel to their destinations so that their Christmas arrangements are not ruined.

"Meanwhile, we have also approached the conciliation service Acas to seek their assistance in reaching an outcome that would avoid any possibility of disruption."

Mr McCluskey said: "Unite remains ready and willing to talk to BA at any time. This dispute can be sorted but the company needs to come to the table with a positive offer."

Virgin pilots have not planned a fully fledged strike but will work "strictly to contract" with a removal of "goodwill" from December 23, their PPU union said.

Postal and rail workers are also planning industrial action in a Christmas of discontent.

A dispute between Southern Railway and train drivers has already brought a large portion of the travel network to a standstill this December.

Post Office workers will strike next week, including on Christmas Eve, after their union said an offer it made to resolve a row over jobs, pensions and closures was rejected.

Postal workers from the Communication Workers Union will strike for five days, including three days of walkouts by staff in Crown offices - larger branches typically in high streets.

Swissport said numerous offers have been made to Unite since April 2015.

A statement said: "The latest pay offer was in line with what the union representatives had previously indicated they were prepared to accept and would give all staff an overall increase of 4.65% on their current basic rates of pay, together with additional holiday pay, and increases to overtime rates and other pay supplements for the majority of the workers covered by the agreement.

"Over 6,000 staff are employed in the areas impacted by the strike action, but less than 1,200 were included in the ballot which rejected the offer by a majority of only 296.

"Swissport will do everything within its power to limit any impact of the proposed industrial action on the airlines it serves and their passengers."

A spokesman said: "This is another in a series of recent examples where a minority of trade union members are acting in a cynical fashion to disrupt the travel plans of the public and attempt to hold employers to ransom, without giving thought to the long-term job security of staff, and the commercial viability of employers.

"We operate in a very low margin and highly competitive sector and our overall pay and conditions already compare favourably with our competitors.

"We therefore believe the offer already made is very reasonable and would have been welcomed by the majority of our staff.

"We remain committed to resolving this matter as soon as possible while protecting the interests of our customers, airline passengers and ultimately our staff."

Sean Hoyle, president of the RMT, the union responsible for the strikes that halted Southern Rail services this week and are set to cripple them again in the New Year, claimed the action was politically motivated.

Unions were co-ordinating the strikes in a bid to "bring down this bloody working-class hating Tory government", The Sunday Times quoted him as saying.

According to the newspaper, the leader said his union's "rule No 1" was to "strive to replace the capitalist system with a socialist order" at a conference hosted by the Socialist Party in November.

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