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Gatwick Airport workers balloted for strikes over pay

“The current pay of £8.27 an hour for our members is less than the voluntary UK living wage”, says regional officer at Unite, Jamie Major.

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Workers at Gatwick Airport are being balloted for strike action in a row over a ‘massive inequality’ in pay.

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

More news: World Mental Health Day: West Sussex Fire Service pledges support for staff wellbeing

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.

Last month, Wilson James assisted more than 56,000 passengers through the airport, which Unite calculates as a total of an estimated 670,000 a year.

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.

“It remains a mystery to our members. Gatwick Airport needs to get its priorities right, otherwise it will suffer huge reputational damage.

Jamie continued: “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.”

Gatwick

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Gatwick CEO confirms plans to bring standby runway into operation

In an exclusive interview with CN24, Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate has spoken about the new draft Master Plan that has been widely speculated.

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Gatwick CEO Stewart Wingate has talked through their draft master plan and their plans to bring their standby runway into operation.

Following a presentation at the Gatwick Transport Forum last week, there has been a deluge of press activity coupled with speculation that Gatwick were trying to ‘sneak’ a second runway into operation.

This morning (18th Oct), Gatwick released details of their draft master plan which looks at how the airport could grow in the longer term.

With airports updating their master plans every five years, Gatwick has not published one since 2012 and now is keen to hear what a wide variety of their stakeholders will think of their draft.

The idea is for the airport to take all the feedback it receives from a 12 week consultation it has launched today and then work it into a finalised master plan in the new year which will then take a look over a 5 and then 10 year period.

So why has there been so much fuss about this upcoming plan?

To understand this you first need to look at how an airport can grow when a second full  runway isn’t an option.  All most people have heard about over the last few years has been the mass debate over who would get an additional runway, Gatwick or Heathrow?  Now that decision has been made it leaves Gatwick with a dilemma.  How to grow with what they already have?

Mr Wingate explains:

“For the past 3 years we have not been in a position to release any new slots yet we know there is pent up demand from airlines to fly to and from Gatwick.

What we are really laying out, with these scenarios is how we can achieve more movements.

We want to create more slots in a sustainable manner that will see us grow volumes at the airport in the coming 10-15 years”

So for an airport to grow it must be able to handle more air traffic and in turn more passengers and so it all comes down to one of the three scenarios that Gatwick has put forward for consideration.

Mr Wingate talked through the scenarios put forward:

“The first scenario is about optimising the main runway.  With more movements generated on the runway we therefore get a higher passenger volume and more opportunities to travel and more businesses to trade.

The second scenario is looking at how do we bring into routine use of the standby runway.  We think we can get that up and running by 2025.

And the third one deals with the new runway proposal which had a lot of attention over the last few years.  We are now not actively pursuing that at this time, but asking government to continue to safeguard the land so that in the longer term there is a prospect for a new runway.

So essentially what we are laying out is that we are not actively pursuing the new runway scheme, but what we are actively pursuing is optimising the use of the main runway and looking at bringing the standby runway into operation”

Despite there being three it is the second scenario that has brought about such an outcry from some local groups that accuse the airport of ‘backdooring’ a second runway.

Gatwick has had a standby runway since 1979 which is only used for emergencies or if the main runway is blocked.  An agreement with West Sussex County Council and the airports authority stated that this standby runway could not be used for take offs or landings IF the main runway was available. But this agreement ends in 2019 which is where the idea of utilising it has come from.

It’s not quite as simple as just waiting for the agreement to end however as safety guidelines mean the two runways are too close together to be both in operation as it presently stands.

Suddenly talk of ‘stealth’ tactics appeared from opponents, in particular CAGNE (Communities Against Gatwick Noise and Emissions) who released a press statement that included:

“This is simply betrayal of communities of Sussex, Surrey and Kent who have already endured the increases in longhaul movements this year by 24.1% – this is a second runway by the backdoor, how can communities ever trust Gatwick management again?“

But Mr Wingate is eager to point out:

“This isn’t the second runway project. One of the key points that we are trying to address is to give the region an airport that is the right size. What we are proposing is more of an incremental scheme and in line with government policy and very similar to what is happening with London city, Stansted and Luton, maximising the use of existing infrastructure.

Of course to go ahead and use the standby runway, we would have to go through a full planning process with first of all a planning application and then a Development Consent Order process which would see us then build the infrastucture required all on our own land, in time to have the standby runway brought into operation on or around the summer season of 2025.

This is a project which is more incremental in nature as opposed to the full new runway

An additional usable runway by 2025 – this means before Heathrow would have their third runway.  But this also means that an increase in traffic both on and off the airfield could happen much sooner than anyone expected.

In sharing some statistics Mr Wingate laid out the possibilities of growth with their proposals.

He said that by optimising the main runway better they could increase traffic movements by 30-50k per annum which would increase passengers from 47.1M to around 60M by 2032.

But if they were to utilise the standby runway these traffic movements could increase by a staggering 91k – 106k per annum meaning passenger numbers could grown to between 68-70M by 2032.

With such a large increase in air traffic local campaigners concerns can be understood but the Gatwick CEO says he does understand, particularly around noise.

“When you look at the noise impact of the airport, we have had experts in noise look at what the likely fleet mix will be in the future and then compared the impact in 2032 with the impacts the residents close to the airport feel today.

In the draft master plan we layout how the noise impact would be very similar to what they are today and in many cases they will be lower because we will retire some of the older fleet of aircraft, particularly some of the older 747’s and move to the more modern airplanes.  The technology of the aircraft and the engines enables us to predict a similar or in some cases smaller footprint than we have today.

Having listened quite carefully to a variety of stakeholders over the last several years we have looked at and tried to come up with a scheme which we think is more in keeping with what the majority of people in the area would like to see. They would like to see good growth but in a sustainable manner.

We do believe that if we were to bring the standby runway into operation then that brings us an opportunity for us to start to engage with local residents about what sort of restrictions should be brought on the airport during the night time. Obviously we do have restrictions placed upon us currently but it maybe that we can actually accept tighter restrictions during the night time hours which we think would be welcomed by local residents.

This is all about developing the land we already own to bring all this economic benefit forward and with Brexit just around the corner this is a highly productive scheme which put not only the airport but the region as a whole in very good stead for the future.”

So isn’t the use of the standby runway really just Gatwick getting a second runway?

Well actually not completely because if we say a runway is a stretch of land where an airplane can take off and land from then infact this ISN’T a second full runway. This is because the standby runway would not operate in the same way as the main one.

Firstly, only smaller planes would be allowed to use it whilst all other aircraft would still have to use the main runway.

Secondly, and this is probably the most important point, if the standby runway was to come into operation, flights would only be allowed to depart from it.  No landings.

Whilst there would still have to be a lot of work done to widen the gap between the two runways in order to meet safety guidelines, with no landings there would also be no need for a costly new ILS system.

This means that Gatwick would be able to keep the costs of converting the standby runway down to as low as 4-500 million.  Short change in airport terms or as Mr Wingate puts it:

“Very efficient when compared to other schemes in the London area.”

Whichever scenario gets the go ahead though the questions around the transport infrastructure to and from the airport will still need to be addressed. With the M23 improvements currently taking place and with Highways England looking to add more smartlanes on the M25 around Reigate there are movements in place to help ease this issue.

Mr Wingate also confirmed that traffic around the airport was something they had to address as well.

“There are plans to further improve the road network that Gatwick is accountable for and that we provide and there is an upcoming project to totally revitalise the Gatwick station by 2023 so we have a lot of emphasis on both road and rail.”

No matter what comes out of the review of the draft plan, there will always be objections and even the muttering of the word ‘second’ has already caused cold shivers and heated emails to traverse the web.

But growth must happen and it is clear from the draft master plan that Gatwick are trying to look at the best ways in which they can do this.

This has been reiterated by local MP Henry Smith:

“Crawley’s prosperity depends on the success of Gatwick Airport and the publication of this new draft master plan goes a long way to securing future growth in the town. I have always supported the airport growing within its existing boundaries and welcome their exciting new vision for incremental growth that will support more jobs and opportunity in Crawley.”

But Mr Smith is not alone with this support.

Tim Wates, Chairman of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

“A strong and growing Gatwick airport as the beating heart of the Coast to Capital region is the central theme of the LEP’s strategic vision, so we welcome the publication of Gatwick’s master plan today and wholeheartedly support its vision for future growth.”

And Carolyn Fairbairn, CBI Director-General, said:

“Now more than ever, unlocking new aviation capacity to deliver global trade links is critical for a strong UK economy. London’s airports are set to be full in the next decade, so the CBI welcomes Gatwick’s highly productive proposals to deliver increased capacity that complements expansion schemes at other airports. This will drive trade and investment, create new jobs and help British businesses thrive”

But it is Mr Wingate who sums up their proposals best:

“What we are bringing forward here is a project that will generate about 2billion pounds of GDP benefit to the region as a whole.  20k jobs will be created across the region as a whole of which about 8k of those jobs will be on the area – it will open a whole new range of routes for people to fly for both holiday and business flights.”

 

 

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