18th September 2007

Union picketing “a throwback to a bygone age”

Today’s picketing of the Stansted Public Inquiry by members of Unite is a throwback to a bygone age. The target of today’s action was local MP Sir Alan Haselhurst who was giving evidence to the Stansted Inquiry against BAA’s expansion plans for the airport.

It is understood that BAA managers at Stansted encouraged the picket, promising to pay their staff for joining in the protest. Many of the union demonstrators were BAA security staff and so BAA’s generosity in agreeing to pay them to join the picket line may not have been appreciated by airport passengers standing in the security queues.

It is still not clear what the union protest is all about. The public inquiry is not considering the closure or contraction of Stansted Airport but the question of whether it should be permitted to expand to become the UK’s second largest airport, after Heathrow.

Apart from the environmental arguments against BAA’s expansion plans, a key concern is that this predominantly rural area could become over-dependent upon jobs at Stansted, making it vulnerable to any downturn in the aviation industry. Stansted is considered to be more vulnerable because a single customer, (non-union) Ryanair, accounts for two out of every three scheduled passengers at Stansted.

The area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country and Stansted is already unable to fill job vacancies locally. Airport employers are having to recruit from much further afield, including in Central and Eastern Europe and, if BAA’s expansion plans were approved, it is not clear where the additional airport workers would come from.

Stop Stansted Expansion Economics Advisor Brian Ross commented: “We’re scratching our heads to understand what this protest is all about. Many of SSE’s supporters are airport employees who feel that enough is enough and that excessive expansion could threaten their future job security – not to mention their quality of life. And they tell us that they have not been consulted or balloted about this protest, although it is purported to be in their name.”

Mr Ross concluded: “The airport is a valuable local employer but we shouldn’t have too many eggs in one basket. We owe it to tomorrow’s generation to create new job opportunities. That is what the union should focus upon rather than playing yesterday’s game with a picket line reminiscent of the 1960s and 1970s. We are surprised that BAA considers this picket worth supporting, especially at the expense of its paying passengers.”

Campaigning against proposals to expand Stansted Airport