July 20, 2008
T5 STRIKE THREAT.. AT THE BUSIEST HOL TIME ; EXCLUSIVE Staff ‘Bullied’ Airport Chaos
By NICK OWENS
BAGGAGE handlers at Heathrow's troubled Terminal Five are threatening a summer strike - causing mayhem and misery for holidaymakers.
They say they are forced to work long hours and managers are refusing to listen to concerns about problems with the baggage handling systems.
Now more than 200 baggage handlers at the arrivals section are being balloted over strike action.
They could walk out in August - in a move which would bring chaos to hundreds of thousands of travellers at the busiest time of the holiday season.
Gary Pearce, of the GMB union, said: "Morale among the baggage handlers is at rock bottom. Many have tried to raise concerns with senior management about the way they are being treated by their supervisors, but managers don't want to listen.
"Our members are saying they have to work in a culture of fear and intimidation which is unacceptable and is why we have opened a ballot over strike action. Obviously the last thing travellers or bosses at the airport want is a strike, but our talks with management have not got anywhere and this is the only option open to us."
The strike threat is the latest blow to bosses at the pounds 4.3billion terminal, which had a disastrous opening in March, with 30,000 suitcases going missing, hundreds of flights cancelled and lifts and escalators breaking down.
An average of 50,000 travellers now pass through T5 every day and any strike would throw Britain's busiest airport back into turmoil.
Staff - paid around pounds 17,000 a year - have been working round the clock since March to get T5 back on track but problems have persisted in arrivals.
One worker said: "Everyone is really unhappy. It's not a case of 'do you want to work extra hours?'. It's a case of 'you will work late'.
"If it takes a strike to make them listen then that is what we will do."
The ballot will start tomorrow and workers have a week to say whether they want to stage a walk-out. A BA spokesman said: "We have not been advised by any union that they intend to ballot for industrial action."
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