Pay deal averts BAA strike pain

FEARS of travel chaos over the busy Bank Holiday faded last night after airport operator BAA secured a last-ditch pay deal with unions, who agreed to call off planned strikes.

In a dramatic climbdown, Unite said it would urge workers at Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen airports to accept a “much improved” pay offer from BAA rather than go ahead with industrial action. The breakthrough came after eight hours of talks between union representatives, led by Unite’s Brian Boyd, and BAA executives led by Terry Morgan.

Neither side would confirm details of the salary hike offered to airport staff. But the package will be far in excess of the one per cent rise previously tabled by BAA.

Boyd said union members would be informed of the deal today and would vote on it in the next few weeks. Speaking outside the headquarters of conciliation service Acas, he said: “Unite came to these negotiations with a strong mandate for industrial action… [but] we are pleased to announce we are calling off strike action at BAA’s six airports.”

BAA said the parties had reached an agreement “that is fair to staff but which also reflects the difficult economic climate”.

Unions had planned to strike as early as next Monday to express their anger at a below-inflation pay rise and changes to working conditions. Because many of the unionised workers are firemen and security guards the action would have closed airports, disrupting up to 2,500 flights and troubling 350,000 travellers every day.

BAA originally insisted a one per cent salary increase reflected the pressures of the recession and the £36m cost of the Icelandic volcanic ash clouds. But the company’s negotiators softened in the face of further multi-million pound losses.

The deal means the potentially devastating impact of a BAA staff strike coinciding with action by British Airways cabin crew will almost certainly be avoided.

Peter Harwood, chief conciliator at Acas, said the talks had been “challenging” but said Unite, together with the Prospect and Public and Commercial Services unions, would press its members to accept the olive branch from BAA.

“Acas is pleased at this development and hope that the matter will soon be settled,” he added.

BAA, owned by Spanish giant Ferrovial, last faced the prospect of industrial action in 2008. In that case, an 11th-hour arrangement on pensions averted a series of strikes.