Strike action by British Airways workers at Heathrow will bring further “misery” to passengers already suffering disruption at airports, Downing Street has said, amid fears that industrial action could derail summer holiday plans.
A No 10 spokesman “strongly encouraged” the airline and the GMB and Unite unions to negotiate a settlement after staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action on Thursday.
It comes as London commuters face fresh disruption on Friday, with some Overground and Tube lines set to operate a reduced service in the morning after a second day of nationwide rail strikes. Over 40,000 RMT workers staged a walkout amid a bitter ongoing dispute over real-term pay rises and redundancies.
Transport for London (TfL) urged Londoners to avoid travelling on the Overground before mid-morning and said travellers should “expect disruption” throughout the day. Separate strike action will also take place on the Night Tube on the Central, Jubilee and Victoria lines on Friday.
Around 60 per cent of trains in Britain will run, Network Rail said, because of a delay to the start of services as signallers and control room staff will not turn up for overnight shifts.
Network Rail said that "even during the day the service will stay thinner" than usual and some operators will wind down services slightly earlier than normal.
Meanwhile, Britons heading abroad faced the prospect of further chaos at airports after over 90 per cent of BA workers in both the Unite and GMB unions backed strike action.
Workers, including check-in staff, will now decide on strike dates, which the union said were likely to be held during the peak summer holiday period.
GMB national officer Nadine Houghton urged travellers not to book a BA flight “at this stage”.
She said the airline had “tried to offer our members crumbs from the table” in the form of a 10 per cent one off bonus payment, after claiming wages had been cut by the same amount during the pandemic.
BA said they were “extremely disappointed” with the strike action but would “work together to find a solution”.
“Despite the extremely challenging environment and losses of more than £4bn, we made an offer of a 10 per cent payment which was accepted by the majority of other colleagues,” they said.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “This is obviously a matter for British Airways and the unions and we would strongly encourage both to come together to find a settlement.
“We don’t want to see any further disruption for passengers and strike action would only add to the misery being faced by passengers at airports.
“DfT (Department for Transport) will obviously work closely to look at what contingency measures BA could put in place and we expect BA to put in place contingency measures to ensure that as little disruption is caused, and that where there is disruption that passengers can be refunded”.
Travellers have already faced chaos at Britain’s airports as staff shortages forced airlines to cancel hundreds of flights, with large queues at security and long waits for baggage. The industry has been hit by a surge in demand after laying off thousands of workers during the pandemic, but aviation bosses have warned it could take up to 18 months to rebuild capacity.
Elsewhere, rail operators and the RMT failed to make a breakthrough in negotiations on Thursday – bringing large swathes of the country to a standstill.
Negotiations to prevent Saturday’s strike are ongoing but passengers are still urged to check with train operators for updates to services.
RMT assistant general secretary Eddie Dempsey said he thinks "the public is behind us".
He said: “It’s about time Britain had a pay rise. Wages have been falling for 30 years and corporate profits have been going through the roof.”