On 5 January British Airways sacked a second shop steward for
involvement in the Heathrow Airport baggage handlers' strike of 11-12
August in support of the Gate Gourmet catering workers, producing
food for BA's flights, who were locked out on 10 August.
The union involved, at BA and at Gate Gourmet, the TGWU, was so cowed
that it did not even issue a press release to complain about the
sacking, let alone start a campaign to ballot the workers for action
to defend their shop steward.
The Gate Gourmet dispute thus seems, sadly, to be ending in a
complete rout. According to the Financial Times (17 December 2005),
Gate Gourmet bosses have said that they will "re-engage" about 200
workers out of 700. 13 had been "re-engaged" as of that date, so it
remains to be seen whether the final total comes to as much as 200.
The Gate Gourmet bosses make clear that this is outside and beyond
the supposed deal made with the TGWU in September, because not all
the 144 workers named by Gate Gourmet for compulsory redundancy
signed Gate Gourmet's required documents (sent out at the end of
October) by Gate Gourmet's deadline of 16 November. In fact only 25
signed the documents.
Gate Gourmet's statements claim that they are being generous and
cooperative in "re-engaging" some workers outside the terms of the
supposed deal, but all that is probably said with a view to
strengthening their position in the unfair-dismissal tribunal cases
they will face. The Gate Gourmet bosses also indicate a much more
likely "real" reason: "because of the labour shortage".
(All this at www.gategourmet.co.uk.)
Despite the fact that no effective picketing, boycott, or solidarity
action had impeded Gate Gourmet's output since early August, "labour
shortage" made the company unable to provide full catering to BA
before the end of December (www.ba.com). No wonder, then, that Gate
Gourmet was willing, indeed keen, to re-hire selected workers.
According to Gate Gourmet, as early as the ACAS talks which ended on
16 August: "In those talks, and subject first to legal safeguards,
Gate Gourmet offered to take back the majority of sacked workers,
recognising that many were swept up in the moment by the instigators
of the illegal action". Tony Woodley's statement on those ACAS talks
confirms this position "'Talks have, indeed, broken down as a
consequence of Gate Gourmet wanting to selectively re-employ those
who had been sacked even though there is enough work for everyone',
said Tony Woodley, the T&G general secretary".
The Gate Gourmet bosses have secured exactly that "selective
re-employment", on their own terms, and with pre-emptive protection
(the union's consent) against Employment Tribunal challenges by
workers whom it refuses to re-employ.