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UK cost-of-living crisis: Heathrow security staff launch ten-day strike over pay

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Passengers queue to enter airport security ahead of the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, at Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport, in London, Britain, April 14, 2022. (Photo by Reuters)

The security staff of the UK’s Heathrow Airport have launched a 10-day strike, joining other civil servants and workforces across the UK industries to walk out of their jobs in a demand for higher wages in face of the skyrocketing inflation.

Around 1,400 security guards participated in the strike beginning on Friday, after the last-minute talks with government officials over a pay rise failed.

According to Unite the Union, the industrial action involves staff at Terminal Five of the airport, which is used exclusively by British Airways, and those responsible for checking the imported cargo to the airport.

The strike has resulted in British Airways canceling around 5 percent of its flights during the Easter period, and 70 flights on Friday only, with the airport warning that some passengers may face security delays over the strike days.

The airport was forced to deploy 1,000 extra staff members to compensate the dilemma and to assist passengers on Friday.

The aviation industry is under pressure from the government to avoid a repeat of last year's Easter queues, delays, and cancellations, which were largely caused by staff shortages.

Not only the airports and aviation industry, but a majority of the UK industries are grappling with industrial actions, with hundreds of thousands of workers holding strikes for better pay and conditions as the prices of commodities and energy bills soar.

“Everybody knows London is one of the most expensive cities in the world. And we've got people that can't afford to pay their bills. They can't afford to pay their mortgages. I've heard stories of members acting to take a cold shower in the middle of winter so they can afford to put petrol in the car to come to work,” said Wane King, a regional coordinating officer of Unite the Union.

“No one should have to live like that when you've got an organization that is as powerful, successful as Heathrow Airport. It's the only way we could do it because the employers don't take it seriously enough. He's not giving us the increases our members need. So, our members are making the decision to go on a strike,” he added.

Heathrow airport claims that it had offered a 10 percent pay rise back-dated to 1 January, plus a lump sum payment of more than £1,000. However, the offer was rejected by the workforce as the increase could not match the soaring inflation across the country.

The strike by Heathrow’s security forces comes on the heels of the nationwide strikes on ‘budget day’, when about half a million British workers went on strike as unions staged a mass walkout timed to disrupt Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt's annual budget.

Unions say wages, especially in the public sector, have fallen in real terms over the past decade, and a cost-of-living crisis fueled by sharply rising food and energy prices has left many struggling to pay their bills.

Britain’s annual inflation rate was 10.1 percent in January. The Conservative government argues that pay increases would drive inflation even higher.

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