Talks aim to avert airport baggage handlers strike as Christmas of discontent grows

Talks aimed at averting a pre-Christmas strike by baggage handlers and other staff at 18 airports will be held at Acas this week. Pic: PA.
Talks aimed at averting a pre-Christmas strike by baggage handlers and other staff at 18 airports will be held at Acas this week. Pic: PA.

Talks aimed at avoiding strikes by baggage handlers and other staff at airports including Newcastle will be held at Acas this week.

Officials from the Unite union and aviation services company Swissport will meet at the conciliation service on Tuesday.

More than 1,500 check-in staff, baggage handlers and cargo crew are due to strike for 48 hours just before Christmas in a long-running pay dispute.

Members of Unite employed by Swissport will walk out on Friday, December 23, and Christmas Eve at 18 airports around Britain, including Newcastle.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey hailed the Acas talks as progress, saying: "This is clearly a positive development.

"We are pleased that the company will sit down with us in an effort the resolve this dispute. We are confident that our members' case is extremely strong, and that fairness will prevail."

The strikes, which could affect the traditional festive getaway to sunnier climes, are among a series of actions planned by unions over Christmas and the New Year across several industries.

They include:

* Cabin crew: Up to 4,500 British Airways cabin crew members based at Heathrow will strike on Christmas Day and Boxing Day in a pay dispute backed by Unite. BA said it has approached conciliation service Acas to organise talks.

* Pilots: Virgin Atlantic pilots will take industrial action short of a strike and work "strictly to contract" from Friday, December 23, over a union representation dispute.

* Post Office workers: 4,000 Post Office workers will strike for five days from December 19 in a dispute over job security and pensions. Talks between the Post Office and the Communication Workers Union broke down on Thursday.

* Rail workers: Southern Railway conductors are due to hold a two-day strike from Monday, and over the New Year. A five-day train drivers' strike is due to be held from January 9 over the removal of guards from trains.

A leading Labour MP warned union chiefs they need a "wake-up call" over the impact a planned wave of Christmas strikes will have on people.

Meg Hillier, chairwoman of the influential Commons financial watchdog the Public Accounts Committee, said union leaders are in danger of shooting themselves in the foot.

She said unions needed to think about the impact the strikes in what has been dubbed the 'Christmas of discontent' will have on passengers.

"I think it's absolutely right people should have the right to strike, but I think it is a very unfortunate combination for people travelling, workers, at a particularly difficult time of year.

"I think that all trade unions, even though they are fighting for their rights, need to really think about the impact on the people they are actually there to serve, their customers, or their passengers.

"There needs to be a bit of a wake-up call about the impact on hard-working people who are trying to get to work, or go on holiday. And I think that if they are not careful they could be shooting themselves in the foot," she told Sky News.