Unite the union and airport operator BAA are to begin talks at midday today in a bid to avert strike action by engineers, firefighters and security staff.

The strike centres mainly on a pay dispute which saw Unite reject an offer of a 1.5 per cent pay rise as being "far short of employee expectations". Unite said that last year its members accepted a pay freeze in recognition of the difficulties facing the aviation industry.

The talks will take place at an undisclosed location and are being facilitated by Acas.

Should talks collapse strikes could take place in a week's time at BAA's airports, which include Heathrow, Stansted, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Unite has accused BAA of being "confrontational" and is due to meet internally today to discuss strike options. There is speculation that the union may choose to strike over the August bank holiday weekend in order to cause maximum disruption and inconvenience to the company and the travelling public.

BAA has said that it wishes to come to an agreement quickly, but also said, "More than half of those eligible to vote in the strike ballot did not do so and we believe the result does not provide a clear mandate for strike action. We believe that our offer of a conditional 1.5% pay increase is fair and reasonable during a very difficult economic climate for the aviation industry."