The Unite union has warned of potential strike at Birmingham airport after workers were offered a “paltry” salary increase following a three-year pay freeze.

The union is now making preparations for an industrial action ballot, after workers rejected the airport’s final offer of a 2.5% pay increase and a one-off non-consolidated payment of £150.

Workers’ pay has been frozen since February 2009, with the retail price index rising by 13% during that time.

The airport’s staff say they have “endured fundamental changes to their terms and conditions”, changes to the pension scheme, and the company is now proposing changes to shift patterns.

Meanwhile, Birmingham Airport made a profit after tax of £5.2 million during 2010-2011 and is increasing passengers, opening up new routes and extending the runway to allow long haul flights to the east cost of the USA and Pacific regions, said Unite.

“Birmingham airport is taking off but management have grounded their workers’ pay,” said Unite regional officer Peter Coulson.

“Staff have endured years of pay freezes and to make matters worse their pensions and conditions have been slashed.  Unite has even proposed third party intervention from Acas to assist in reaching an agreement in the negotiations but even this has been decisively refused by the airport. Our members’ patience is running out.”

Unite has held two consultative ballots with its members, which include security staff, baggage handlers and information desk staff, and the company’s offer has been rejected on both occasions, with 76.5% of members that voted rejecting the offer in the most recent ballot.
“The airport is forcing a dispute and we have no option but to prepare for an industrial action ballot,” said Coulson. “There is still time for the owners of Birmingham Airport to get serious and listen to our members reasonable demands.”

Birmingham Airport said it was “very disappointed” to learn that its backdated pay increase offer, which for some members is more than 3%, had not been supported by the unions and subsequently refused by its members. 

“It is even more disappointing because less than half of the union members balloted actually rejected the offer,” said an airport spokesman.

“The unions have informed us they will now proceed to ballot for industrial action, this process could take several weeks.”

Although the airport said it did not know what type of industrial action the union is proposing, it said that due to the low number of members involved, it was “confident that there will be no disruption to normal operations”.