Anger as Heathrow jobs axed

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The Independent Online

Airport workers reacted with fury today after being told they were losing their jobs just weeks before Christmas following the collapse of a leading baggage handling company.

Airport workers reacted with fury today after being told they were losing their jobs just weeks before Christmas following the collapse of a leading baggage handling company.

Swissport went into administration, ceasing all operations at Heathrow at 5am with the loss of up to 900 jobs.

Baggage handlers, check-in staff and other employees turned up for work and were told by security staff that they were being laid off.

They were told to hand in their official passes and go home immediately, leading to angry attacks from union leaders that the company had acted "disgracefully".

One baggage handler said: "To lose your job is bad enough. To lose it six weeks before Christmas just after we thought our jobs were safe is a real kick in the teeth.

"But the worse thing for me was being told by a security guard that I had lost my job."

Other ground handling companies covered Swissport activities at Heathrow's four passenger terminals today and passengers were advised to turn up as normal for their flights.

Airport operator BAA said the announcement had not come as a complete surprise adding that airlines involved had put contingency plans into operation.

"We are working closely with all the affected airlines to ensure that disruption is kept to a minimum," said a spokesman.

Leaders of the Transport and General Workers Union and the GMB travelled to the airport to meet their members after hearing the shock announcement.

TGWU official Kevin Hall said: "This is a huge blow for our members and for Heathrow. We will do all we can to look after our members' best interests, and our priority at the moment is just that."

GMB official Ed Blissett said: "It is quite disgraceful that the first workers heard about this was from the media without any proper negotiations with their representatives.

"It is of grave concern to us that such an announcement should be made with little or no notice. This is no way to treat a workforce."

Union officials said they were aware that Swissport was having financial problems at Heathrow and had agreed to hold talks to discuss efficiency savings.

The two sides had recently negotiated a 2.5 per cent pay rise so today's announcement came as a huge shock.

The company said its cargo service at Heathrow will not be affected nor will the "highly successful" businesses operating at other UK airports under the Groundstar name.

Swissport said in a statement that it regretted placing the Heathrow operation in administration following a number of years running an unprofitable business at the airport.

"Lengthy negotiations with both staff representatives and a major customer to find an alternative solution have been unsuccessful."

The company said the remaining parts of its business in the UK remained "buoyant" and were enjoying the prospect of healthy growth.

Swissport's international business across Europe and the rest of the world was "similarly" healthy.

The company services 11 airlines at Heathrow - Aer Lingus, El Al, Icelandair, Cyprus Airways, Swiss, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Malaysia Airlines, Greek airline Hellas Jet, Middle East Airlines, Air China and Turkish carrier Kibris.

Swissport was due to handle 74 flight at Heathrow today representing 5 per cent of the total operation at the airport.

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