By Emma Parsons
The Gate Gourmet catering workers at Heathrow Airport, London, remain locked out, months after being sacked and three weeks after they voted for a deal they thought would end the dispute.
The latest news, as of 18 October, is that BA may refuse to sign a new contract with Gate Gourmet to provide meals for its flights. This contract was a key part of the deal the TGWU leadership promoted. The leadership was apparently so confident that they had secured a three-way agreement (union/BA/GG) that Tony Woodley himself explained the deal to the workers at the mass meeting on 28 September.
The promised revenue from the contract was due to provide 397 workers with the opportunity of their jobs back (though 210 of those had already opted for voluntary redundancy) and the others, including 144 made compulsorily redundant, with compensation payments. The 144 were due to have a right of appeal to the company based on agreed criteria.
But on the picket line workers have spent three weeks waiting for confirmation and expecting letters from the company that would help them settle their future. They have seen no written version of the agreement. They cannot receive DSS payments and are dependent on a small payment from the union and what solidarity provides.
Despite many of the sacked Gate Gourmet workers still regularly attending the picket line, the lack of progress is causing cynicism.
We do not know whether the business about the contract is a ploy by Gate Gourmet or BA or both to drag out the dispute beyond the three month time limit within which Employment Tribunal claims for unfair dismissal must be made. We do not know whether there are behind-the-scenes plans by Gate Gourmet’s owners to put GG into bankruptcy and open a new company which could then win the BA contract with a new non-union workforce.
There has been pressure within the TGWU “not to have another Liverpool Dockers dispute” with workers on the picket line for years with no means of resolution; but we do not know whether the original deal was ever as hard and fast as the union leadership claimed. We do not know if BA have alternative plans for a provider. All these things will become clearer with time. Meanwhile the Gate Gourmet workers are left to wait.
What will the union do? Any serious hope of rescuing the situation depends on revisiting the one approach that produced serious movement from the bosses — the solidarity action by BA baggage handlers in August, which the union leaders failed to build on at the time.
Pressure on the union to explore that approach will depend on the Gate Gourment workers themselves organising, meeting together, and formulating clear demands on the union officials.
At present the most-discussed fallback option is the last-resort one of all the individual workers putting in Employment Tribunal claims. (Up to now such claims have been precluded by the union seeking a deal). Unfortunately, such Tribunal claims are likely to bring only slight redress, and with long delays.
In any case, supporters of the Gate Gourmet workers should renew their solidarity now. They need our financial, practical and moral support. Workers who fight back for justice are a beacon for the labour movement.
Already it looks like seven of the leading union activists will lose out whether the deal goes through or not. Working people who fight back often pay a high price. Their struggle shows what should and could be when working people resist capitalist logic, but their situation also sheds light on how far short of justice they are now.
- Support the picket line, 10am to 2pm every day except Saturday, at Beacon Road roundabout, Heathrow, on the Southern Perimeter Road dual carriageway, about a kilometre south-west of the Terminal Four roundabout. Contributions to the hardship fund: cheques payable to TGWU with Gate Gourmet written on reverse to Gate Gourmet Hardship Fund, c/o Mr E McDermott, Regional Secretary TGWU, 218 Green Lanes, London N4 2HB.
- While Gate Gourmet Britain still stalls on its deal to reinstate or compensate locked-out workers at Heathrow, German Gate Gourmet workers at Düsseldorf airport in Germany have struck against moves to worsen their conditions. Send support messages to
firstname.lastname@example.org. More: www.iuf.org.