Evidence collated by Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has revealed that thousands of workers employed at London’s airports are being forced to survive on poverty wages and are paid less than the London Living Wage (LLW).

Living wage week

Unite is highlighting the issue today (Monday 11 November) as it is the first day of Living Wage Week, when the Living Wage Foundation announces the new rates for the real living wage.

While workers are on poverty wages the airports themselves are incredibly profitable and in many cases are generating record revenues.

Low pay at airports

Despite a series of successful campaigns at all London airports to increase pay rates, many workers are still not on the LLW and this includes workers operating at night and on other unsocial hours shift patterns. Unite believes that the majority of the low paid workers are women.

Unite estimates that there are over 2,000 workers at Heathrow airport who are currently paid below the London Living Wage.


Unite is also highlighting the duplicity of the airports which include London in their title in order to attract travellers but aren’t prepared to pay the London Living Wage.

Unite estimates there are over 600 workers at ‘London’ Luton airport who are paid below the LLW.

It is a similar picture at ‘London’ Stansted airport where hundreds of workers primarily in the hospitality and servicing sectors of the airport are only paid the minimum wage.

At ‘London’ Gatwick airport Unite has been successful in boosting very low paid workers onto the real living wage but this means that there are many workers who are paid £9 an hour but below the LLW of £10.55. However many workers in the retail and catering chains at Gatwick are still paid below the real living wage.

At City airport there is an agreement to roll out the LLW to key direct suppliers and contractors but restaurant and workers in currency exchange offices aren’t covered by the agreement.

Bumper profits

The low pay at airports is in stark contrast to the profits the airports themselves make, Heathrow airport recorded profits of £267 million in 2018 and Gatwick has recorded record profits of £260 million.

Immoral actions

Unite national officer for civil aviation Oliver Richardson said: “It is entirely immoral that airports are making eyewatering profits, while the workers who directly serve the travellers are on poverty pay.

“In recent years Unite has made huge strides in tackling the culture of poverty pay at airports but far more needs to be done before workers receive pay justice and poverty pay is ended.

“The airports tender the contracts and issue licences to operate under, which often force workers onto low pay, by introducing decent employment standards into such documents this problem could be resolved overnight.

“Unite is already in the process of launching fresh campaigns to target the worst payers in the airport sector.

“If airports use the London title in order to generate customers and revenue they have a moral duty to pay the London living wage and Unite will be holding them to account.

“It is only by joining a union such as Unite that workers will ever be able to achieve better pay and conditions.”


Notes to editors:

The real living wage set by the Living Wage Foundation is currently £9 an hour and £10.55 in London. The Living Wage Foundation announced today that it will rise to £9.30 an hour and £10.75 in London.

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Barckley Sumner on 020 3371 2067 or 07802 329235. Email: barckley.sumner@unitetheunion.org

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.