Heathrow Express workers have won a much-improved pay deal - with the company’s attempted productivity strings dropped. They achieved it through solid industrial action following years of sustained work to build up union organisation.
Virtually all HEx staff are RMT members, including drivers - an unusual situation within the industry, and one which has given the workforce the power of being united in one union, with all grades able to take action together. The fact that HEx workers were in a position to fight for an improvement in an above-inflation pay offer, when workers elsewhere are reluctantly accepting significantly worse, is the culmination of years of hard work by RMT reps and activists to build up industrial trade unionism at Heathrow Express.
The company made a pay offer that was not good enough and was loaded with strings, and after months of negotiations had not improved it sufficiently to make it acceptable. Although the offer included a pay increase, this is dependant on workers meeting attendance criteria - it would have effectively punished us for being sick or missing work for other legitimate reasons.
RMT balloted members for industrial action, with 95% voting Yes to strikes and a heavy vote for action short of strikes too, with a turnout of over 80%.
The union held a solid 48-hour strike on 27 and 28 May and prepared to follow it with a series of one-day strikes and overtime bans if the company did not back down.
RMT members picketed the company’s main office at Paddington, and while staff could book on duty at several other points, hardly any did. The company drafted in some managers to drive trains and advertised a half-hour service, but by mid-morning had achieved nothing like that. As usual, our bosses showed themselves willing to risk passengers' safety in order to score a few PR points, but this time, pretty much failed to achieve even that.
Following a morning’s lively picketing, a packed meeting discussed the strike and the way forward. Reps were confident that keeping up pressure on management through industrial action would force them to drop the strings from their pay offer and give a decent, above-inflation rise without making staff pay for it through 'productivity' elements. HEx tabled an improved offer, and a big majority accepted it in a referendum.
RMT missed the opportunity to co-ordinate the Heathrow Express action with strikes by London Underground drivers to demand the reinstatement of sacked union reps. With both companies’ workforces on strike, travel to Heathrow airport would have been knocked out, putting serious pressure on both companies. But this glitch aside, this campaign shows that we do not have to accept rubbish pay offers or ‘strings’ that we don’t want, and also shows that sustained efforts to build up trade union organisation pay dividends.