London Ashford Airport Limited has been ordered to pay out more than £72,000 in compensation to nine air traffic controllers after an Employment Tribunal judge ruled that it had purposefully bypassed the workers’ trade union when negotiating pay rises.   

The outcome follows legal action brought by Thompsons Solicitors on behalf of the staff, who are also members of Prospect – the trade union recognised by the Airport for collective bargaining purposes. 

At a hearing which took place earlier this year, an employment tribunal judge heard evidence that the affected individuals had not had a pay rise since 2018 and that under a Recognition Agreement, the Airport had committed to negotiate with Prospect on pay each year from September, with the option of holding a meeting with Acas if negotiations were not successful.  

However, from September 2022, Prospect had repeatedly attempted and failed to initiate pay negotiations. In January 2023, the Airport served a 6-month notice of termination of the Recognition Agreement.  

On 21 February 2023, the Airport also sent notices to the Claimants announcing pay rises of 2%, which would come into effect on April 2023, and 3% in September 2023, with further anticipated 2% pay rises in April and September 2024.  

This was followed up with letters sent to the Claimants by the Airport informing them that with effect from 1 April 2023, their salaries would be increased and asking them to sign the letter to accept the changes to their terms of employment.  

In response to the pay increases being applied from April 2023, at Prospects’ suggestion, the Airport later attended two meetings with Acas to discuss the de-recognition notice and pay rises. Following these meetings the Airport refused to continue to recognise Prospect voluntarily, and no agreement was reached about pay rises.  

Furthermore, on 28 September 2023, the staff were told that the Airport would not continue to consider pay increases “in light of the recent Employment Tribunal claim”. They also did not receive the pay rise in September 2023 that they had previously been promised. 

As a result of the ongoing issues the workers instructed employment law experts at Thompsons Solicitors, supported by Prospect, to bring a claim against their employer.  

Their legal team, led by Iain Birrell, argued that prior to the offers being made, there had not been any meaningful discussions about pay and that Prospects’ repeated efforts to enter into discussion with the Airport had been ignored.  

In a judgment handed down last month, the Employment Tribunal Judge found in favour of the workers, saying that the ‘predominant purpose behind the Respondent’s actions during the relevant matters was a negative attitude towards the likely impact of the union on pay negotiations’. 

The Airport was ordered to pay the air traffic controllers a fixed sum totalling £72,864. 

Commenting on the outcome of the case Iain Birrell from Thompsons, said: “This is a fantastic outcome for our clients who have been significantly financially impacted by the Airport’s efforts to bypass their union when entering into negotiations over pay.  

“Employers cannot be allowed to act unreasonably and illegally in the way that they treat their staff, and we are delighted to have received a judgment which clearly holds the organisation to account over its failings.”  

Camille Ibbotson of Old Square Chambers acted for the successful Claimants and was instructed by Iain Birrell of Thompsons Solicitors LLP on instructions from Prospect.