Hundreds of Gatwick airport workers could walk out in a dispute over “massive” pay inequality.
More than 250 Wilson James employees at the airport will be balloted on potential strike action.
The Unite union will ballot Wilson James members at Gatwick between October 15 and October 29.
Wilson James became Gatwick’s preferred Special Assistance Services supplier earlier this year.
Last month, its employees assisted more than 56,000 passengers with restricted mobility and/or hidden disabilities through the airport, according to Unite.
The dispute centres around a demand for a £1 an hour pay rise for the 2018/19 financial year to “bridge the gap” to luggage trolley staff, who Unite say are paid “significantly more” than Wilson James staff assisting disabled passengers on £8.27 an hour.
"Our members take their responsibilities to the hundreds of thousands passengers they care for during their time at Gatwick very seriously,” said Unite regional officer Jamie Major. “However, this blatant pay inequality can’t continue any longer.”
Major said the role played by Wilson James employees at the airport was a “big responsibility” that should be “valued appropriately”.
“There is no rhyme nor reason why pushing luggage is valued more than helping people,” said Major. "Perhaps it’s because airlines can charge more for heavy luggage to increase profits. It remains a mystery to our members. Gatwick Airport needs to get its priorities right, otherwise it will suffer huge reputational damage.
“The current pay of £8.27 an hour for our members is less than the voluntary UK living wage, which is currently £8.75 outside London – and the south east is one of the most expensive places to live in the country.
“If our members vote for strike action, this will adversely affect the Gatwick ‘experience’ for disabled travellers in the run-up to the peak Christmas holiday season.
“We wish to avoid any distress to disabled passengers and that’s why we are asking Wilson James management to get around the table to negotiate constructively to resolve this dispute.”
Samantha Rope, Wilson James Human Resources director, said: “Wilson James was awarded the PRM [passengers with reduced mobility] service contract at Gatwick airport in late 2017 and mobilised on February 1, 2018. As part of our strategy to improve the experience of customers using the PRM service, we have committed to an ambitious change programme, which includes investment in our employees, infrastructure and technology.
“Since being awarded the contract, we have engaged with our union colleagues at Unite the Union to be open and transparent on the issue of employee compensation and wellbeing. We remain committed to continuing this dialogue and look forward to resolving the outstanding pay award, so that our hard working employees can reap benefit from this year’s pay rise.”