Heathrow: Why Furious Workers Walked Out

BRITISH AIRWAYS (BA) staff at Heathrow airport walked out in a wildcat action on 18 July to prevent the company imposing an automated time management scheme (ATR).

Check-in staff were furious when their senior union reps told them on Friday that the company was determined to impose the scheme at noon on 22 July.

“Everybody felt we might as well walk out now, rather than wait until Tuesday,” a GMB member told the socialist. Once the strike took effect, the frustration and anger of staff was shown as action spread from shift to shift and across the terminals.

Every time a shift came on and found the previous shift had walked out, they walked too.

Hundreds of flights were cancelled, affecting tens of thousands of passengers.

The workers, members of GMB, TGWU and Amicus returned to work on Sunday, when the company promised “full and frank negotiations” on Monday. But clearly, unless BA withdraws the imposition of ATR, the staff will walk out again.

ATR is linked to a computer system (iArm) which would allow the company to track workers’ hours on an annual basis, using swipe cards. BA want to cut costs by making staff come to work when it’s busy and go home when it’s not.

This would mean working more in the summer and less in the winter. But BA staff want to go on holiday in the summer, like everybody else.

This scheme, adopted in some US airports, would open the door to further cuts in working conditions, like split shifts and would adversely affect other things like overtime payments.

As we went to press, talks had adjourned overnight. BA agreed to delay their imposition of the new system by 24 hours for talks to continue.

Meanwhile some groups of workers have been taking supportive action, including working to rule. This has spread to the engineering staff.

Unless talks reach a satisfactory agreement, there will be ballots for industrial action. But as these ballots take two weeks, further walkouts are likely – this time affecting more staff, across all terminals.