Friday, September 02, 2005

Gate Gourmet offers a deal

GATE GOURMET, the Heathrow airline catering company that sacked 675 workers on 10th August after deliberately provoking a walkout in a strategy to replace the existing workforce with a cheaper one, last week started to offer voluntary redundancy terms to all its workers, including those who walked out.
The American-owned company is still seeking a big reduction in the workforce but, under pressure from the Transport and General Workers’ Union, British Airways and unions in the United States, it is now negotiating a deal.
Gate Gourmet says it must reduce costs if it is to survive. But British Airways has offered the company an improved contract with more money to provide in-flight meals.
BA is anxious to be able once again to offer its passengers hot meals in-flight and to avoid further solidarity action by BA employees in support of the sacked gate Gourmet workers, like the unofficial three-day walkout of baggage handlers three weeks ago. This walkout grounded thousands of BA flights at the height of the holiday season.
Both BA and Gate Gourmet have refused to comment on whether it has promised to help Gate Gourmet with the redundancy terms it is now offering. A figure of £7 million was mentioned in the press.
The package on offer is two-and-a-half times the statutory minimum and includes two times the weekly pay for every completed year of service.
The offer is being sent by letter to each worker this weekend.
But the dispute is far from over. The TGWU has warned that there could be wrangles over the treatment of staff who staged an unofficial walkout in protest at the cuts.
Gate Gourmet says it will not take back the most militant staff, while the TGWU is insisting that the 667 sacked strikers and the 1,400 other staff are treated equally.
Both sides said they hoped to resolve the dispute when the level of acceptances of redundancy is clear after the end of this week. The TGWU said that it held no brief to encourage its members to take redundancy.
Meanwhile across the Atlantic the union Unite Here, which represents half a million American hospitality workers, has threatened to take solidarity action if Gate Gourmet fails to reach an honourable deal with the sacked Heathrow workers.
Union president Bruce Rayner said the members would “take every lawful measure” in support of the Heathrow workers.
Unite Here and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters recently forced Gate Gourmet to restore the health coverage rights of its workforce in the US.
Rayner wrote to Gate Gourmet chief executive David Seigel saying: “I write to express Unite Here’s unyielding support for the Transport and General Workers’ Union members negotiating with Gate Gourmet in the UK.
“As you know, Unite Here and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters have been negotiating with Gate Gourmet on behalf of 6,000 members working at your US kitchens.
“Let there be no doubt, we consider your assault on the union employees in London to be an assault on union members everywhere. We are outraged by such immoral behaviour and we expect that you will resolve this dispute by reinstating all of the fired workers.
“Failure to resolve the matter in the UK will certainly cause the unrest to spread across the Atlantic as our members will be forced to take every lawful measure possible to support our fellow union members.”