Delays to aircraft taking off and passengers disembarking can be expected on Friday (12 September) when ground handlers strike for 24 hours at three Heathrow terminals in a dispute about pay.

Talks between Unite, the country’s largest union, which represents more than 500 ground handlers, and the management of ASIG broke down on Monday over the delayed 2013 pay award which should have been implemented 14 months ago. ASIG is a subsidiary of BBA, the largest ground handler at Heathrow.

The strike will run from 00.01 on Friday for 24 hours and the airlines affected will be at terminals one, two and three. Ground handling staff cover such duties as check-in and baggage handling, vital to the smooth running of Heathrow, which is in the top three of the world’s busiest airports.

The deal on offer is 5.5 per cent over two years, which Unite said was unacceptable, given the soaring cost of living.

Unite regional officer Michelle Braveboy said that: ‘The prospect of incipient chaos for thousands of passengers should concentrate the minds of management and get them around the table again to negotiate a fair settlement.

“While the company was awarded the privilege of being the main ground handler at terminal two and has grown since 2013 by winning many new contracts, they have forgotten the staff who have contributed so greatly to that success.

“We are still negotiating on the 2013 pay award which should have been paid in July last year and are now having to negotiate a two-year deal as this year’s anniversary date has already passed.”

Unite said that the company’s foot dragging was compounded by the decline in staffing levels, the increase in overtime that employees notch up and customer-facing pressure when the baggage moving equipment fails.

Michelle Braveboy added: “More importantly, given the previous history in regards to pay talks, assurances were given last year that we would not be in this position a year later. This promise has been comprehensively broken by ASIG.”

However an ASIG spokesperson commented:  “ASIG is disappointed that the unions are pursuing industrial action when only a relatively small proportion of our Heathrow workforce has voted for it. We have made a very fair and competitive pay offer with a two year pay increase of 2.75% per annum running from 1st July 2013. This is one of the best pay deals on offer from similar airport based companies. We will be doing our utmost to minimise the impact on our customers and the travelling public.”