Heathrow’s cash mountain should be used to help staff threatened by ‘fire and rehire’, says Unite

wide shot of white aeroplane at airport

Heathrow Airport Ltd (HAL) needs to dip into its cash mountain to protect airport jobs during the pandemic, after its boss boasted that it had reserves for the next 15 months ‘even if we had no passengers’.

HAL chief executive John Holland-Kaye said this morning that the company had cash reserves to carry it through the next two years at least - 15 months with no passengers using the airport which was not expected to happen. This was despite posting a £1.5bn loss in the first nine months of this year.

Unite said that HAL had got its priorities wrong with generous pay-outs to shareholders, including the Qatari royal family, one of the world’s wealthiest families, and well-padded remuneration packages for top HAL executives.

Instead, HAL has issued notices to ‘fire and rehire’ staff on vastly inferior pay and conditions which will mean workers losing up to £8,000 per annum – about 25 per cent of their pay. The proposals will affect about 4,000 workers employed by HAL.

Members of Unite employed directly by HAL, including security officers, engineers, airside operatives and firefighters, are currently balloting for industrial action over these plans with the ballot closing on Thursday 5 November.

Unite regional coordinating officer, Wayne King, said: “The remarks made by Heathrow Airport chief executive John Holland-Kaye boasting that the company had a cash mountain to tide it through the pandemic for the next two years shows a scant and callous disregard for those on the airport’s frontline, such as security operatives and firefighters.

“There seems to be one rule for the shareholders who have received handsome dividend payments and the generous remuneration packages for top executives, including John Holland-Kaye – and another more brutal approach to those who can least afford cuts to pay.

“He has admitted that HAL is in a ‘very strong’ financial position, so now is the time to sit down with Unite for constructive talks to chart a fair and equitable way forward as we go through the COVID-19 crisis.

“The issue here is not a lack of money, but how it is shared out. John Holland-Kaye has put the interests of shareholders well before that of his employees.

“This is a sad indictment of his managerial style and not what is expected at a time of national crisis when social responsibility should complement the demands of the balance sheet.  

“Driving down the wages of our members will hit not just their pay packets in the run-up to Christmas, but the local economy in the Heathrow region with the possibility that restaurants, pubs and local shops will be badly affected.”

Recent Unite research has shown that 84,400 people are directly employed at the airport, which hosts 320 businesses making it the largest workplace in Europe. One in five of local jobs are based at the airport and 40 per cent of the workforce in the surrounding area is employed in the aviation sector.