Gate Gourmet blames union for staffing crisis

Gate Gourmet’s general counsel has hit out against the Transport & General Workers’ Union (T&G) for aggravating events surrounding its sacking of 800 staff for striking.

European general counsel Hooman Yazhari said that because the industrial action at Gate Gourmet was not renounced by the T&G, it became official. Consequently, the company will not be able to selectively re-engage dismissed staff until mid-November unless they all enter into compromise agreements waiving future rights to bring unfair dismissal claims.

Yazhari told The Lawyer: “Had the union intervened to renounce the strike when it first occurred and encouraged the employees back to work, then apart from the real possibility that this would have ended the strike before anyone was dismissed, the company could also have considered whether to treat the strike as unofficial.”

UK employment law states that if staff are dismissed while taking part in an official action, those who are not selectively re-engaged gain the right to claim unfair dismissal for a period of up to three months unless they sign compromise agreements. In contrast, employees taking part in action not authorised by a trade union have no right to claim unfair dismissal.

Meanwhile, sources close to Gate Gourmet said the T&G was stalling progress of compromise agreements. “They understand the necessity of the compromise agreements, but haven’t signed off the wording,” said the source.

British Airways’ caterer Gate Gourmet, whose major shareholder is Texas Pacific Group, sacked its Heathrow-based staff after they participated in unlawful industrial action in August. The company’s operation at the UK airport has made losses for four consecutive years to the tune of £55.9m, and was forecast to lose £25m in 2005.

A T&G spokesperson said: “The union is negotiating on behalf of members at present with the employers and it would not be helpful to comment during the negotiations. The union has acted lawfully at all times during this dispute.”