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London Airport (Industrial Dispute)

Volume 649: debated on Monday 13 November 1961

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(by Private Notice) asked the Minister of Aviation whether he will make a statement about the industrial dispute at London Airport.

Ministry of Aviation loaders, numbering 360, are striking in protest against an offer of deferred introduction of a responsibility allowance for certain of their number, and a number of their colleagues in other sections have come out in sympathy. While the situation varies from shift to shift, about 1,100 staff in all, spread over three shifts, are now out.

An unofficial stoppage began on Monday, 6th November, when loaders refused to continue work without either additional supervision or the responsibility allowance claimed. On Thursday, 9th November, the Transport and General Workers' Union declared the strike official.

The strike affects only those services in the central area provided by the Ministry. The long haul operators are not affected. Freight services were halted in the central area from the start. While the strike was unofficial, passenger services were kept going by volunteers from the non-industrial grades of Ministry staff and from the operators. Since the strike was declared official, passenger services to and from the central area have been very substantially reduced and only light hand-luggage can be taken on flights still operating.

My Ministry is in touch with national officers of the Transport and General Workers' Union, and the House will appreciate that in the circumstances it would be unwise for me to enter into further detail at present.

Would the right hon. Gentleman agree that in this case the strike leader is none other than the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Is it not the fact that early in the year men working for B.O.A.C. were awarded an extra 2½d. per hour and that we now have the position that, because of the pay pause, men doing similar work and employed by the Ministry of Aviation were told that they must wait for their 2½d. an hour until the end of the pay pause and that even then it will not be back-dated?

The union tried in a very statesmanlike way to get this problem solved, but it is quite insoluble so long as we have this fatuous idea that we can have men doing comparable work and, whilst conceding that they all deserve an advance, we refuse point blank to allow one-third of them to get it. Will not the Government, having seen the ridiculous position that they have got into, now agree that this money should be paid at once?

There are a few factors involved here of which, no doubt, the pay pause is one, but there are a number of others. It is a complex matter. There is no national negotiated rate here for which comparability could be adhered to. It is true that B.O.A.C. negotiated a rate as long ago as February, 1960. Nothing happened after that for twelve months or more, and then this claim was put in; but it is being negotiated at present and I would, therefore, rather not add anything.

Could the right hon. Gentleman tell us how many flights into and out of London Airport have been stopped, and how the matter so far has affected B.E.A. from a financial point of view?

I could not give the precise number because it has varied considerably during the progress of this dispute. But I can say that there is very serious interference with the programmed flights of B.E.A. at present. It would not be possible to calculate the loss at this stage, because it depends upon assumptions as to what the loadings of the flights would be and other matters.

Would my right hon. Friend be clear and tell the House whether the refusal to give these increases breaks or maintains the principle that increases made before the announcement of the pay pause are allowed?

The situation is consistent with the Government's general policy of wage restraint, but there are a number of matters here which are separate from the pay pause.

Do these loaders, employed by B.O.A.C., get 2½d. an hour extra for doing the very job which is done by loaders who operate for the Ministry of Aviation and to whom the Minister has refused it? When the right hon. Gentleman said just now that the matter is now being negotiated did he mean that it is now being freely negotiated and that he is in a position to come to an agreement about it?

All men are free to come to agreements within the general ambit of the policy dealing with these matters. With regard to the question of the comparability, I can only repeat what I said, that there is not a national negotiated rate here. This is important. As the right hon. Gentleman, with his experience, will know, it is relevant whether there is a national negotiated rate or not, because there is a question of comparability there. There was a separate negotiated rate, negotiated in February, 1960, by B.O.A.C., to give to those responsible responsibility money. Some of the jobs that are done are comparable with that and some are not.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the best thing he can do in the interests of the airport and of the country is to bring this 2½d. dispute to an end as quickly as possible by paying the agreed rate for the job?

With respect, I am inclined to think that the best thing we could all do would be to let the discussions proceed in the ordinary way.

Is there not a national council which has agreed to the increase of 2½d. an hour? Is not the position made even more absurd by the fact that, in any event, next April these same men will go from the jurisdiction of the right hon. Gentleman to the jurisdiction of B.E.A.? Therefore, as we do not know whether the pay pause is to end before April, it is surely quite absurd to force these men into strike action—for it is nothing short of that—whilst they know perfectly well that by April they will be out of the jurisdiction of the right hon. Gentleman.

I think that the hon. Gentleman is under a slight misapprehension. There is not a National Joint Council negotiated rate here. I would repeat that, on the whole, it would be better to let these discussions proceed. I doubt whether they are assisted by these statements.