Almost 1,000 workers are set to take eight days of strike action at Gatwick airport, beginning later this month, in a dispute over pay.
The 950 workers, who are members of the Unite union, are employed by four companies: ASC, Menzies Aviation, GGS and DHL Services Ltd.
All four companies conduct outsourced operations for major airlines such as ground handling, baggage handling, ramp agent, dispatchers and check-in agent roles.
The union said: “Given the scale of the industrial action, disruption, delays and cancellations are inevitable across the airport.”
A Gatwick spokesperson commented: “We are aware of the recent ballot result. London Gatwick will support the airlines affected, who hold the contracts with the third-party ground handling and check-in companies, with their contingency plans to ensure that as many flights as possible operate as scheduled.”
British Airways said in a statement: “Our ground handling agent at Gatwick, GGS, is surprised by Unite’s announcement, given the constructive conversations they’ve had this week. It is continuing to work with the union to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency so as not to disrupt our customers’ travel plans.”
A spokesman for easyJet commented: “We are extremely disappointed to hear of the proposed industrial action by Unite ground handlers at London Gatwick Airport on the weekends of Friday July 28 and Friday August 4.
“More talks between our ground handler DHL and Unite are taking place early next week to try and resolve the issue and we urge them to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”
Unite said most of the workers are paid on average less than £12 an hour, despite undertaking “highly demanding and safety-critical” roles.
Unite has been in negotiations with the four companies since January but said the employers failed to make offers that meets the workers’ expectations.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “Our members at Gatwick airport undertake incredibly demanding roles and are essential to keeping the airport and airlines working, yet their employers somehow think it is acceptable to pay them a pittance.
“As part of Unite’s unyielding focus on the jobs, pay and condition of its members the union has drawn a line in the sand and is committed to eradicating the scourge of low pay at the airport.”
The workers will strike initially for four days beginning on Friday July 28 ending on Tuesday 1 August 1. There will be four more strike days from Friday August 4 until Tuesday August 8.
The airlines affected include British Airways, easyJet, Ryanair, Tui, Westjet and Wizz.
Unite is also balloting its members at DHL Gatwick Direct, Red Handling and Wilson James. All three ballots will close on Monday July 31. If workers vote for industrial action, the strikes in these companies could begin by the middle of next month.
Unite regional officer Dominic Rothwell said: “Strike action will inevitably cause severe delays, disruption and cancellations across Gatwick’s operations but this dispute is entirely of the companies’ own making.
“They have had every opportunity to make our members’ a fair pay offer but have chosen not to do so.”
Aviation analytics firm Cirium has calculated that 4,410 flights are scheduled to depart on the strike days – equating to more than 840,000 seats.
During the strike period, Gatwick will see an average of 441 departures per day, with easyJet operating the most, followed by British Airways, Tui, Vueling and Ryanair, added Cirium.
Kevin Harrison, managing director at TMC Good Travel Management, said: “Although strikes are positioned to cause an impact when leisure travel is at its peak, they will inevitably impact business travellers flying into Europe too.
“In the UK, unions must give 14 days’ notice of strike action. Therefore, business travellers should take proactive measures to manage disruptions caused as soon as possible.”
Rocio Concha, Which? director of policy and advocacy, said: “These latest strikes threaten more serious travel disruption and with the UK’s weak passenger rights protections, there is a risk that we will see a repeat of last year’s chaos, when airlines routinely failed to meet their legal obligations to their customers.
“The government has recognised that an important step in putting an end to this cycle of nightmare travel experiences is for the aviation regulator to be given stronger powers.
“The prime minister must now show he is on the side of passengers and prioritise giving the CAA the teeth it needs to hold airlines to account, by setting out legislation for new enforcement powers in the King’s Speech later this year.
“Airlines know potential disruption is coming, so they must communicate effectively with passengers and give them the opportunity to be refunded or rerouted at the earliest opportunity – even if that means buying passengers a seat on a flight operated by a rival carrier.
“They must also provide passengers with assistance, which may include free refreshments or accommodation, if appropriate to the length of the delay.”