THE Reading Employment Tribunal has dealt with the last 23 claims for unfair dismissal against Gate Gourmet London arising out of the mass sackings that took place at the Heathrow factory on August 10-11 2005.
It found that six of the 23 claimants were unfairly dismissed, among them S Dhillon the plant convenor at the time, while it dismissed the remaining 17 claims.
It found that two other shop stewards S Sandhu and H Singh were participating in unofficial industrial action at the time of their dismissal and therefore had no case.
750 claims for unfair dismissal had been submitted by the TGWU and approximately 250 claims by individual employees.
Almost all of these claims are now struck out, a few have been successful, and some have been resolved between the parties or are the subject of remedy hearings where unfair dismissal has been conceded.
The convenor, S Dhillon’s case and victory is among the most controversial.
He was the convenor and played a leading part in the TGWU campaign to get every worker to sign the Compromise Agreement under which workers gave up the right to employment tribunal`hearings – while he did not sign the Compromise Agreement himself.
On the day, 10-8-2005, that Gate Gourmet London brought over 100 replacement workers into the plant, although he had advance notice that this was to happen, he was at the Hillingdon office where a shop stewards meeting had been called for 10.00am.
After workers were told by management officials and at least two shop stewards to go to the canteen, he was asked to come to the plant by the management.
A pre-hearing of the Employment Tribunal held in November 2006 decided on a preliminary point ‘that the persons present at the canteen at the time of the issue of dismissal notices were participating in unofficial industrial action’, and that ‘those people who were dismissed for failing to attend work as rostered whether as normal shift or overtime on the afternoon of 10th August 2005 and the morning of 11th August 2005 were participating in unofficial industrial action’.
Further, that the Tribunal in Clause 54 of its verdict stated that: ‘Included in the employees dismissed was Mr Dhillon. The convenor who had been called to the site by both Gate Gourmet and trade union members.
‘He had followed the advice given to him by Mr Gold the National Secretary which was to seek a withdrawal of the threat of dismissal before the staff returned to work. He was present in the canteen at the time of the dismissals.’
It added in Clause 75: ‘What none of the Tribunal could understand is why having heard how the respondent viewed this congregation of employees Mr Dhillon did not address the entire group to advise them that whatever their concerns that this was a matter that the union had been due to consider at 10.00am that morning, including what if any industrial action was appropriate and that it should be left to the union executive to consider, and that they should return to work.
‘Had he done so none of these problems would be before this Tribunal.’
Many sacked workers are angry that Mr Dhillon will now get compensation for unfair dismissal while they are to get nothing after their cases have been thrown out, with the Tribunal saying in case after case that it did not believe them but believed Gate Gourmet.
They are also concerned that among the ‘Reasons’ for the dismissal of their cases is contained the following in Clause 5 which gives 100 per cent support to Gate Gourmet:
‘During the time that all the events in the canteen were taking place and immediately after the announcement of the dismissals it was necessary for Gate Gourmet to clarify who of the people who were not at work that day were participating in the industrial action. It is accepted on both sides that it is possible to participate in industrial action even though the person is not physically present at work.
‘In order to gain this knowledge arrangements were made by Gate Gourmet that everyone who was not physically present was contacted at home.
‘The arrangement was that if a person gave an ambivalent answer as to whether they were participating in the action or said that they were, they would be deemed to be participating and dismissed.
‘If the person said positively that they were not participating they were not marked on the list as dismissed and were not sent a dismissal letter.
‘A person on annual leave or on sick leave who did not answer the phone was marked as participating and sent a dismissal letter.’
What sort of justice is this?