Airside Safety Penalty Points Scheme
HLC members arriving at the compass centre to present a petition about the proposed penalty points scheme

Airside Safety Penalty Points Scheme

In the Summer of 2009, the HLC became aware of a document that proposed a dramatic change to the way that BAA would manage safety breaches in airside areas at Heathrow. In short, the proposal was that instead of the employer being warned, that the employee would have "points" allocated to their airside ID, which could result in it being suspended. The HLC is fully supportive of any genuine safety initiatives, but we had some serious concerns about this proposal.

Firstly, the Health and Safety Executive report that about 70% of accidents are due to management failings - so it seemd likely that airport workers would be penalised not just for their own actions, but because they were carrying out management instructions or were working without adequate training, equipment or PPE that they should have been given. It seemed that the responsibility for safety was being transferred from the company to the worker, which might well mean that airport employers make fewer efforts to ensure that their working practices were safe.

Our second concern was the proposed appeal system - there wasn't one. Or rather, that the employee who was having points allocated to his or her pass did not have an automatic right of appeal. Only the employer could submit an appeal on behalf of the employee. This seemed a clear breach of the principles of natural justice - not least because it seemed likely to us that Companies would hardly submit an appeal for an employee who might alert BAA to failures in their management practices.

The HLC started a petition of airport workers and asked BAA for a meeting to discuss our concerns. Only hours before a scheduled meeting of the HLC was due to start, BAA agreed to meet with us, so we closed our meeting early and took a stroll along the Bath Road to the compass centre with our box of petitions. The staff at the Unite office menetionsed that our collection of flags had just come out of the washing machine and they asked if we'd mind taking them along and giving them a bit of a wave to dry them off.

When we got to the Compass Centre, it was clear that BAA were not entirely sure of what to expect, because there were 150 police in full riot gear and two SWAT teams waiting in case we caused any trouble (sorry, that was a typing error - it should read an Airport Duty Manager and a Ground Ops Duty Manager). We handed over our box of 2,000 plus petitions to HR Manager Martin Keeler and a few of us went in to discuss matters.

The meeting was fairly amicable and we even gave Martin Keeler one of our Lighten Up T shirts (though we haven't actually seen him wear it). Martin said that these proposals were merely at the discussion stage and that no decision had actually been made about bringing them in yet (though as there was an implementation date on the document, we were a little sceptical about this bit). We were assured that Unite would be informed with good notice of any firm plans to introduce such a scheme .

That was a year ago. We have seen one revised proposal (that looked even worse than the version we were objecting to) but it seems that the scheme is currently on hold indefinitely. Unite and the HLC are quite willing to discuss any genuine initiatives - in fact we would welcome it - but we will strongly contest any system that allows companies to pass the blame for their failings on to their employees without giving them the opportunity to state their case.