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Heathrow bank holiday travel: Flights could be grounded as refuellers plan early May strike

Simon Calder’s Travel

Fifty aircraft refuellers working at Heathrow airport will strike for 72 hours from 4 May, meaning potential chaos on one of the busiest travel periods of the year.

The action, part of a dispute over terms and conditions for new staff, has been timed to hit travellers over the early May bank holiday.

Those taking part are members of the Unite union working for AFS Aviation. The union says they refuel aircraft for 35 airlines at Heathrow, including Emirates, Virgin Atlantic and Air France, and warns the strikes “are likely to lead to severe disruption to airline services for passengers”.

AFS Aviation also services the three biggest US airlines – American, Delta and United – as well as Air Canada and Singapore Airlines.

The dispute is over reduced pension and sickness benefits for new staff recruited since the start of the year, leading to what the union calls a “two-tier workforce.”

The Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “AFS is behaving appallingly by attacking the T&Cs of new members of staff – those it views as the easiest to intimidate.

“But Unite will not stand for such bully-boy tactics and we will be backing our members in their fight for improved pensions and sick pay for all staff.”

Unite regional officer Kevin Hall added: “Our members recognise that if they allow this attack on their conditions to take place, before long this will become the norm. Unite won’t allow that to happen and is standing firm with our members on the picket line.

“AFS will have to answer directly to the airlines and passengers for the disruption caused by their unmerited actions.”

Sources at Heathrow say contingency planning is taking place. British Airways, which operates more than half the flights from Heathrow, has its own fuelling service and is unaffected.

The Independent has asked Virgin Atlantic and Emirates for comment.

A similar 72-hour strike was called by the Unite union involving the same group of workers in July 2022, over a peak summer weekend. But the dispute was settled before the action started after an improved pay offer was made.

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