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Talks under way in bid to avoid airport workers' strike

Crucial talks aimed at averting the threat of strikes by airport workers which could cause travel chaos for holidaymakers before the end of the school break got under way today.

Leaders of the Unite union and bosses from airport operators BAA arrived for peace talks in a bid to resolve a row over pay involving over 6,000 security staff, engineers and firefighters at six airports - Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

The meeting, under the chairmanship of the conciliation services Acas, was being held at an undisclosed location and followed a vote by Unite members in favour of industrial action in protest at a 1% pay offer.

Unite said its members accepted a wage freeze last year and co-operated with changes to their pension scheme, so deserved a bigger pay rise.

The Spanish owners of BAA offered an additional 0.5% but this was conditional on changes to the firm's sickness agreement, said the union.

BAA said: "We hope that we can quickly conclude an agreement, in the interests of the travelling public, our airlines and our staff, the majority of whom did not vote for a strike."

Around half of the 6,000 workers balloted by Unite voted, with 74.1% of those who did opting for strike action.

Leaders of Unite are due to meet shop stewards later today to decide their next move, which could lead to strike dates being announced unless there is a breakthrough at the Acas talks.

Unite said the airports would close down if strikes went ahead, which would hit the travel plans of millions of holidaymakers and other passengers.

The union would have to give seven days notice of any industrial action, so strikes could be held before the end of the school holidays.

Meanwhile, thousands of British Airways check-in workers and other ground staff will start voting today on whether to accept savings and job losses as part of the airline's plans to cut costs.

The GMB and Unite reached agreement in principle with BA regarding staffing and working arrangements and will recommend that around 3,000 accept the deal, which involves 500 voluntary job losses, with 200 staff having already left, and a one-year pay freeze.

The long-running BA cabin crew dispute remains deadlocked, with further talks expected this week but with little sign of a breakthrough.