Gatwick baggage handlers paid ‘significantly more’ than staff who help disabled, says union

Gatwick Airport 5-1-15 (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150601-100616001
Gatwick Airport 5-1-15 (Pic by Jon Rigby) SUS-150601-100616001

Gatwick Airport workers who help people with disabilities are being balloted for strike action in a row over pay.

Unite has served a strike ballot notice and will start sending ballot papers for strike action to its 254 members employed by logistics firm Wilson James at Gatwick on Monday (October 15). The ballot closes on October 29.

A Unite spokesman said: “The dispute centres on a demand for a £1 an hour pay rise for the year starting 1 April 2018 to begin to bridge the gap with those airport staff pushing luggage trollies who earn significantly more than Wilson James staff. Those assisting disabled passengers are paid just £8.27 per hour.”

Unite regional officer Jamie Major said: “Our members take their responsibilities to the hundreds of thousands passengers they care for during their time at Gatwick very seriously - however, this blatant pay inequality can’t continue any longer.

“We calculate that our members look after 670,000 assisted passengers a year, many with disabilities, which is a big responsibility and should be valued appropriately by the employer.

“There is no rhyme nor reason why pushing luggage is valued more than helping people – perhaps, it’s because airlines can charge more for heavy luggage to increase profits.”

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He added: “The current pay of £8.27 an hour for our members is less than the voluntary UK living wage which is currently £8.75 outside London – and the south east is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.

“If our members vote for strike action, this will adversely affect the Gatwick ‘experience’ for disabled travellers in the run-up to the peak Christmas holiday season.

“We wish to avoid any distress to disabled passengers and that’s why we are asking Wilson James management to get around the table to negotiate constructively to resolve this dispute.”

Samantha Rope, Wilson James human resources director, said: “Wilson James was awarded the PRM service contract at Gatwick Airport in late 2017 and mobilised on 1 February 2018. As part of our strategy to improve the experience of customers using the PRM service, we have committed to an ambitious change programme which includes investment in our employees, infrastructure and technology.

“Since being awarded the contract, we have engaged with our union colleagues at Unite the union to be open and transparent on the issue of employee compensation and wellbeing. We remain committed to continuing this dialogue and look forward to resolving the outstanding pay award, so that our hard working employees can reap benefit from this year’s pay rise.

“In the meantime, our priority is to ensure that our service quality level remains high for the passengers using the PRM service at Gatwick.”