Union Warns Airport Staff Set to Quit if ULEZ Extended

Shift workers who can't use public transport may have to pay charge

Heathrow workers being dropped off by car already have to pay £5. Picture: Twitter

January 27, 2023

The GMB Union has warned that Heathrow workers will find other jobs if low-paid staff are hit with the £12.50 fee under the Ultra Low Emission Zone(ULEZ) expansion. This comes after months of turbulence as the aviation industry struggled to respond to the demand of travellers keen to get away after the Covid pandemic.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, confirmed that ULEZ will be expanding across the outer boroughs of London, including Heathrow Airport. This means that anyone who doesn’t have a compliant car will be asked to pay £12.50 per day to drive around the city.

From August, anyone heading into Heathrow Airport will not only be hit by parking and drop-off charges, but they will also have to pay £12.50 to comply with ULEZ. Staff at Heathrow Airport, who can’t use public transport because of their shift times, will also be forced to pay the charge.

GMB London has now called for the mayor to take into account the impact the extra tax will have on low-paid Heathrow Airport workers. The union says that the charge will threaten staff levels at the airport because people will have to leave their jobs.

Trevlyn McLeod, GMB London Region Organiser said, “GMB has members paying £135 to park the car that got them to work and those who are dropped off or picked up at Heathrow must pay £5 a day, car registration is essential if they don’t want to be charged for both ways.

The free public transport travel passes for Heathrow workers that applied to zones around the Airport were suspended at the beginning of 2021. Another hit of £12.50 a day will prove too much for many of our members who will seek alternative employment outside of the ULEZ zone.

“The idea that our members ditch their cars and all jump on a local bus is absurd, the local transport infrastructure isn’t set up to support the extra carriage. Many of our members have very early starts and very late finishes, there isn’t public transport that can be used during these unsociable hours. Using their cars means they, many of whom are women, can safely travel alone at times of the day when many of us are in bed asleep.

“GMB understands how important it is to tackle air pollution, but the ULEZ extension will affect our Heathrow members who aren’t earning huge great salaries, who are already struggling to support themselves and their families because of the cost of living, and now face being financially penalised for going to work, having more of their limited income taken from them via another stealth tax.

“Our members are so angry about this, without some kind of concession or exemption for our low-paid members, Heathrow may once again face major ground staffing shortages.”

Hillingdon Council has said they will continue to oppose the ULEZ expansion into the borough, which includes Heathrow Airport. Council Leader, councillor Ian Edwards has said the borough will refuse to allow Transport for London cameras – to catch out drivers – to be installed on Hillingdon roads.

Cllr Edwards has said, “We believe the decision by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn, to expand ULEZ was entirely unlawful and we’ll do all in our power to fight it.”

Richmond Council is also calling for the expansion to be delayed by up to a year over fears residents can’t afford to replace their cars, making it the ninth borough to come out in opposition to the plan.

The authority is the latest to join backlash against the scheme’s expansion to all London boroughs. Harrow and Sutton councils have already vowed to refuse to install enforcement cameras designed to catch drivers not paying the new charge. TfL claimed it had the power to install most of the 2,750 cameras needed without the approval of councils.

Lib Dem councillor Alexander Ehmann, chair of Richmond Council’s transport and air quality committee, said, “We hope that the Mayor of London will consider a six to 12 month delay and consider extending the scrappage scheme to help the much greater number of people who rely on their vehicles and simply cannot afford to replace them without a significant transition period and financial support.

“We would like to see a significant amount of extra budget allocated to the scrappage scheme, in the tens of millions, but ultimately it is for the Mayor and TfL to develop proposals further to find a solution that works for all residents of outer London boroughs.”

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London said, “Around 4,000 Londoners die prematurely each year due to toxic air, with the greatest number of deaths attributable to air pollution in London’s outer boroughs. An estimated five million more Londoners are expected to benefit from cleaner air when the ULEZ is expanded London-wide.

“No-one should have to live or work in toxic air but data collated by Imperial College London reveals that as many as 155 deaths are attributable to toxic air in Hillingdon each year. Extending the ULEZ London-wide will enable millions more people to breathe cleaner air, while Heathrow is already benefitting from improved public transport links with the newly opened Elizabeth line and a new timetable on bus route A10.

“The Mayor has listened to Londoners throughout this process, which is why he’s announced the biggest scrappage scheme yet – £110m – to help the Londoners who need it most, including charities, low income and disabled Londoners, micro-businesses and sole traders. This is on top of the £61million provided for previous scrappage schemes. Four out of five vehicles in outer London are already ULEZ compliant and will not need to pay the ULEZ.

“Any money received from the scheme will be reinvested into running and improving London’s transport network, such as expanding bus routes in outer London.”

Megan Stanley - Local Democracy Reporter


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