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Volume 49 Number 2, February 9, 2019 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

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Luton Airport's Baggage Handlers and Check-in Staff in Strike Vote over Pay Freeze

Baggage handlers and check-in staff employed by Azzurra Ground Handling at Luton Airport started voting for industrial action on Wednesday, January 30. The dispute was over the company's arbitrary decision to impose a pay freeze. The question has to be asked why a profitable enterprise should be able to do this, why should the company remove the claim by workers on the value they create? As if it is their God-given right as declared owners to do so. It is not their right; workers have their rights too.

Azzurra provides ground-handling services to Wizz Air at Luton Airport. Wizz Air is a low-cost airline with around 42 routes from Luton. According to Unite the union, which represents the majority of workers at Azzurra, they submitted a pay claim on the workers' behalf at the beginning of 2018. Despite numerous attempts to get meaningful pay talks underway, the company has refused to engage properly with the workforce.

Earlier in 2018, Luton baggage handlers called off a planned strike for the May bank holiday weekend. At the time, the union thought that "productive talks" had taken place, and the action was suspended. It appears that the company were playing games.

When the seriousness of the company was called into question again, unions announced a planned strike to take place on July 20 and 22, 2018. A deal was reached to prevent strike action by ground staff. Baggage handlers, check-in staff, passenger service assistants and security staff employed by Menzies Aviation at the airport then voted to accept a pay offer worth 8.75%.

The agreement would have meant a typical baggage handler's annual pay should have increased by around £1,670 by January 2019, according to the Unite union.

Unite regional officer Jeff Hodge said: "Luton Airport is one of the busiest airports in the UK and Azzurra should be recognising the contribution baggage handlers and check-in staff make by increasing pay so workers can keep up with the rising cost of living.

"The union has been calling for meaningful talks since the beginning of 2018. Azzurra's failure leaves workers with no other choice but to begin a ballot for strike action. If a strike goes ahead it will lead to considerable disruption to flights out of Luton. We hope the company will now sit down with the workers' representatives and resolve this dispute."

Separately, cleaners at Luton Airport employed by Sasse recently voted to end their strike over pay after the workers voted to back an improved pay offer from the company. Cleaners on the day shift will receive an increase of 5% and night shift workers will get a 6% increase backdated to October 2018 up to April 2019, followed by a 3% increase for the day shift and a 4% increase for the night shift from April 2019 to April 2020.

What it means is that, currently, there are workers willing to step up their struggle across the board. Not only does the strike action over pay inspire moves in the same direction at the same location, but it inspires action throughout the working class who are faced with similar problems. Solidarity therefore comes to these sections on the basis that "An injury to one is an injury to all". Section after section are asserting their demands in the face of productivity drives, staff cuts, rising prices and increasing bills. Workers are refusing to tighten their belts as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They are asking the question as to why they are the ones who always have to pay for the economic crisis through austerity and pay freezes imposed by government and monopolies alike.


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