Airbus faces possible strike action at its factories in the UK from as early as next month after workers at the jet maker voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over pay.
About 3,000 Airbus employees voted “overwhelmingly” for strike action according to the Unite union, which described the company’s pay offer for 2021 as “unacceptably low”.
Workers at the company’s sites at Broughton in north Wales and Filton in Gloucestershire, which design and manufacture the wings for Airbus commercial aircraft, could walk out in March unless the dispute is resolved.
A strike would come just as the company is seeking to ramp production back up to meet resurgent demand from carriers as air travel resumes.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said the vote made it “abundantly clear that our members are totally dissatisfied with Airbus’ unacceptably low pay offer”.
The company, she added, needed to “acknowledge that and table a sensible offer, one that amply reflects rising living costs, before this dispute escalates further”.
During the pandemic in 2020, workers agreed to a pay freeze to prevent compulsory redundancies at a time when Airbus was slashing production amid a collapse in demand from cash-strapped airlines.
Airbus said in May last year that it would restore production of its popular A320 medium-haul jets to 64 a month by the second-quarter of 2023. It said in October that it would raise this to 65 a month by the summer of that year. The company has also said it is looking at scenarios of 70 a month by the first quarter of 2024 and 75 a month by 2025.
The aircraft maker faces a difficult balancing act trying to rally suppliers that have been battered by the pandemic to increase production, while at the same time meeting recovering demand from customers.
Airbus said it was “disappointed by the decision, given the damaging impact it will have on our recovery from the pandemic, which has been the worst crisis the aviation industry has ever faced”.
The company in the UK, it added, had managed to “successfully navigate the first waves of the pandemic without the need for any compulsory redundancies at a cost of more than £100mn” and it had made its pay offer “in the context of the pandemic’s impact on our business and the wider benefits structure employees receive”.
Unite said strike action could be avoided if Airbus put forward an offer that met workers’ expectations.