ON August 10 2005 Gate Gourmet locked out and dismissed over 700 workers in a pre-planned operation designed to secure the introduction of their company ‘Survival Plan’.
The operation immediately ran into huge resistance, when thousands of BA staff walked out in sympathy with the locked-out workers causing a BA share crash and losses of £15 million for the company.
Subsequently three BA shop stewards were suspended from work and now face disciplinary hearings, and possible dismissal, all without an official response from the TGWU leaders.
One of the major reasons behind the sympathy action was the knowledge that BA is planning massive redundancies amongst its staff at BA on Heathrow, and workers’ justified fears that if Gate Gourmet was successful with its lock-out tactic, BA workers could be next on the list for the same treatment. BA, who once owned the Gate Gourmet facility, still have a close, even dominating, relationship with the caterer.
The TGWU leaders’ response to this imposed dispute (lock-out) at Gate Gourmet is one that not a single TGWU member or trade union member can ignore, since this response has been officially backed by the TUC, and will become the pattern for ‘resolving’ the major disputes that are to come.
Right from the start the TGWU leaders refused to make the Gate Gourmet dispute official saying wrongly that it sprang out of an illegal action by the workers and therefore could not be made official.
They refused to pay dispute pay or strike pay despite the fact that the workforce formed a daily mass picket near to the plant and was unanimous in demanding that every worker must be returned to his or her job on their original terms and conditions.
Only belatedly and under much pressure did the TGWU leaders organise a hardship fund, which now pays most locked-out workers – many with big mortgages and families to feed – roughly £50 a week.
Publicly, the Tony Woodley policy for the dispute was two-faced.
He told the locked-out workers that Gate Gourmet were ‘gangster capitalists’, adding correctly that the whole country was behind the workers, and continuing that the union was determined that before any changes could be made, every locked-out worker must be returned to work on their current terms and conditions.
At the same time, he told the ‘gangster capitalists’ that he would support the company’s ‘Survival Plan’ which required huge changes in the terms and conditions of employment and mass redundancies.
He predicted that the dispute would last two weeks but was confounded when the locked-out workers revealed their determination to fight until they won their jobs back.
His solution to this contradiction was to drop the demand that the company must return everybody to work, and to try and turn the dispute into a campaign to pressure the Labour government into amending the industrial relations laws in the future to allow secondary action.
The government, however, laughed in his face, with Blair stating that no Labour government would ever do anything of the sort.
On August 25 the TGWU, in the person of Brendan Gold, and the TUC general secretary, Brendan Barber, signed a framework agreement with Gate Gourmet agreeing to its survival plan, accepting that there would be almost 700 redundancies and agreeing to compulsory redundancies.
The ‘gangster capitalist’ company went as far as to express its gratitude to Brendan Barber on its website for his role in supporting the company in the negotiations that had taken place.
On September 9, in the fifth week of the dispute, the TGWU issued a press statement confirming that ‘it has agreed with Gate Gourmet selection criteria for redundancy and the process of ratifying the company’s rescue plans.’
Gate Gourmet made the point that the selection criteria were for compulsory redundancies.
The issue came to a head at the September 12 TUC Congress, which was lobbied by 300 Gate Gourmet workers, who entered the conference and received a rousing welcome from all of the delegates.
With the workers chanting ‘We want our jobs back’ and ‘No compulsory redundancies’ Congress unanimously passed a TGWU emergency motion moved by Woodley expressing 100 per cent support for the locked-out workers and calling for the trade union movement to take every possible legal action to win the struggle.
With hundreds of locked-out workers chanting in the hall, Woodley put on his very best left face, declaring ‘The anti-union laws are a charter for cowboy capitalists, a charter for bullying. They should go now. Right now, not tomorrow.’
This was said after the TGWU had agreed to compulsory redundancies and to the Gate Gourmet ‘Survival Plan’.
The ‘revolutionary’ Woodley declared: ‘If solidarity is a crime, then send us all to jail.’
Other union leaders such as the RMT’s Bob Crow declared that what mattered about the solidarity action by the BA baggage handlers was that it was effective and that it should be repeated.
Woodley’s left talk, forced on him by the mass intervention of the locked-out workers, was an obscene attempt to cover his complete capitulation.
The extent of the treachery of the TGWU and TUC leaders is now becoming crystal clear.
The Gate Gourmet management has written a letter, dated October 20, to every one of the 144 out of 701 locked-out workers that it intends to make compulsorily redundant.
It invokes the ‘Principal Agreement’ that Gate Gourmet has made with the TGWU leaders. This involves all 701 workers giving up all of their employment rights and all legal claims that they may have against the company.
There is no precedent for this dirty ‘compromise’ deal that was signed by Brendan Gold of the TGWU and Brendan Barber of the TUC, and pushed through by TGWU leader Tony Woodley.
In the Gate Gourmet letter, Andy Cook, Gate Gourmet’s director of Human Resources, tells the sacked workers that under the agreement for the resolution of the dispute agreed with the TGWU, the ‘company is now proposing to offer you a compensation payment, equivalent to voluntary severance in full and final settlement of any claims relating to your employment with the company or your dismissal on or about 10/11 August 2005. This payment will only be made to you if you agree to enter into a compromise agreement.’
Cook then reveals more about the handy relationship that Gate Gourmet has with the TGWU leaders.
He writes: ‘If you wish to accept the payment, you should wait to hear from your legal adviser before taking further action. You will shortly receive a letter from solicitors appointed by the union (your adviser) to provide you with independent advice who will also send you a separate letter which sets out claims you may have against the company. Once you have taken legal advice, you will need to sign this letter and attach it to the signed agreement before returning both documents to your adviser for completion and signature. Your adviser will then return these to the company for signature.’
What a disgrace! The company once called by Woodley ‘gangster capitalists’ refers the workers to the union solicitor as their adviser, saying he is independent. It just so happens that the independent solicitor’s employer has pledged to Gate Gourmet that it will move hell and high water to get every worker to sign away all of their employment rights and other rights for a pittance. How independent can you get!
The seven page ‘Compromise Agreement’ with the TGWU leaders spells out: ‘The agreement will prevent you from taking any legal action that you may be entitled to bring in the future which is connected to any extent directly or indirectly with the dismissal of the dismissed employees…’
Further it declares: ‘Since you will receive a compensation payment. . . in return for the ending of your employment, you expressly acknowledge that there is to be a complete and permanent ending of your relationship with the Company and you will not apply for employment with the company, or any associated Company at any stage and that there are no circumstances under which the company or any Associate Company could be required to consider any application for employment by you.’
Further: ‘You agree that the Agreement is conditional upon all of the dismissed employees signing and returning compromise agreements together with signed copies of the Advisers certificates in the form attached to the Company by 16 November 2005 save any variation agreed by the Company to the End Date’.
The TGWU leaders will be pressing all dismissed workers to sell their rights otherwise nobody will get their pittance. A novel form of blackmail!
Further: ‘In the event that any of the above conditions are not complied with in full, the Company shall be entitled at its option to treat this agreement as null and void and without legal effect.’
Giving an indication of the fears that the company has about the legality of its actions, Clause 4.1 of the ‘Compromise Agreement’ demands ‘you accept the terms of this Agreement in full and final settlement of all claims (if any) of any nature (including but not limited to Statutory claims) which you have or may have against the Company or any Associated Company. . . These include but are not limited to:
* Breach of contract (including any breach of trust and confidence)
* unfair dismissal
* Redundancy payment
* Unlawful discrimination (including personal injury resulting from such discrimination) on any of the following grounds:
* Sex, marital status, or gender reassignment
* Race (including colour, nationality or ethnic or national origins)
* Sexual orientation
* Religion or belief
* Part-time working
* Fixed-term working
* Unlawful discrimination by way of victimisation or detriment relating to or connected with any of the grounds referred to above
* Unlawful deductions from pay (including non-payment of the national minimum wage)
* Claims under Regulation 30 of the Working Time Regulations 1998
* Claims under Section 48 of the ERA 1996 in respect of detriment on any of the following grounds:
* The making of a protected disclosure (Section 47B)
* Health and safety (section 44)
* The exercise of rights under the Working Time Regulations 1998 (section 45 A)
* Taking leave for family and domestic reasons (Section47 C) . . .
* Claims for refusal to offer employment on grounds related to trade union membership (section 137(1) (TULRA)
* Harassment under Section 3 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997
* Claims for unlawful imprisonment or assault or otherwise howsoever arising from the events at Heathrow on or about 10/11 August 2005;
* Any other claims, howsoever arising, whether at common law under statute or otherwise.’
This is obviously a company in trouble! However, the TUC and TGWU leaders are doing everything possible to rescue them at the expense of their members.
What all this reveals is that under the Barber-Woodley regime the TUC and the TGWU are on the way to organising company trade unions that seek to give the bosses what they want, however much it costs the membership.
The TGWU leaders have not just agreed to hundreds of redundancies, including 144 compulsory sackings, and the company’s draconian anti-union ‘Survival Plan’, they have agreed to a sale of basic rights for a few pounds, and all so that they can snuggle up to the ‘gangster capitalists’ by saving them large sums from Tribunal awards.
It is clear that this policy of putting the interests of the company before those of the union membership will result in the working class being returned to 19th century terms and conditions of employment if it is not stopped.
Woodley and Brendan Barber must be sacked for the betrayal of the working class that they are carrying out at Gate Gourmet
There must be an end to company trade unionism.
Instead the TGWU and TUC must rip up this rotten ‘compromise’ that has been agreed with Gate Gourmet, make the dispute official, pay dispute pay, divide the hardship fund amongst the locked-out workers, and bring out every trade union to win this dispute, and stop the rise of the ‘gangster capitalists’ and the gangmasters in Britain.