THE Transport and General Workers Union yesterday issued a warning that one year after 800 workers were sacked at Gate Gourmet the ‘dispute could be repeated’.
Its statement said: ‘On the first anniversary of the Gate Gourmet dispute, the Transport and General Workers’ Union is warning that the events that outraged the public and labour movement could be repeated, as the Government has failed to protect British workers from employers such as Gate Gourmet despite the passing of a Labour Party Conference motion calling for the law to be changed.
‘Last August more than 800 workers were sacked by the British Airways’ catering supplier, and the T&G launched a high profile campaign backing them.
‘290 workers that were sacked have now returned to work at Gate Gourmet, and 424 have received payments totalling £3.18m in compensation.
‘The remainder are either pursuing cases through the union’s solicitors, their own solicitors, or have decided against taking a case.
‘Gate Gourmet summarily sacked more than 800 workers on the 10th August 2005. Hundreds were informed by megaphone, and hundreds were kept in the canteen guarded by security staff.
‘The firm’s actions appalled members of the public and the labour movement, and despite the company’s insistence that no workers would be rehired, under pressure from unions and workers, Gate Gourmet eventually reached agreement with the T&G that allowed workers to either return to work or receive compensation payments.’
Tony Woodley, T&G General Secretary, commented: ‘The Gate Gourmet workers, backed by their union and their local community, staged a heroic fightback against an employer that used appalling tactics to get rid of a workforce.
‘Whilst the case outraged the public, Gate Gourmet’s actions were, by and large, legal. Without a union, no worker would have got their job back and not a penny in compensation would have been received.’
Parmjit Bains, a locked-out Gate Gourmet worker, yesterday told News Line: ‘This is a pathetic attempt by TGWU leader Tony Woodley to re-write history.
‘The truth is that under his leadership the union refused to make our dispute official, and the leaders plus Brendan Barber of the TUC signed a Compromise Agreement that completely betrayed us, and was never put to a ballot of the workers.
‘Under this Compromise Agreement not a single worker was to receive a penny of compensation unless all 800 workers signed the Compromise Agreement, which decreed that there would be at least 140 compulsory redundancies, and at least 400 voluntary redundancies.
‘The agreement stipulated that all the 800 sacked workers would give up their tribunal rights, and all legal rights to take Gate Gourmet to court.
‘That all redundant workers would never seek work with Gate Gourmet or any of its associate companies again.
‘Up to 600 workers refused to sign this agreement, saying that they were not slaves.
‘The TGWU leaders sought to compel us to sign and even threatened that they would not take all of our tribunal cases.
‘It was the refusal of the membership to sign that collapsed the Compromise Agreement, leaving Woodley to scramble to get as many workers as possible to sign away their rights to get some compensation.
‘There are over 100 cases at the Employment Tribunal. If Woodley had his way there would be none, and Gate Gourmet would have got away with murder.
‘Our struggle has forced Gate Gourmet to apologise to a number of the workers for the way that they were treated.
‘If Woodley had had his way there would have been no such apologies.
‘Woodley does not say that he refused to make the dispute official and that last January he stopped hardship payments to those workers that insisted on going to Employment Tribunals.
‘The TGWU under Woodley tried to starve us out so that we would sign the deal.
‘We never did and we never will. All workers who want to stop a repeat of the Gate Gourmet dispute should join us and march through Southall on August 20th, the first anniversary of our dispute, to defeat Gate Gourmet and win this dispute
‘On August 20th we will be demanding that the TGWU makes our dispute official and restores our hardship pay, and pledges that it will take action to restore us to our jobs on our old terms and conditions when we win our tribunal cases.
‘We are fighting to win. This is why we call on all TGWU members and all workers to march with us through Southall on August 20th.
‘It is the strength of the trade unions that will defeat Gate Gourmet.
‘Appeals to Blair by Woodley are pathetic and hopeless. Join us on August 20th on our march and rally in Southall to beat Gate Gourmet and all of the slave labour employers.
‘P.S. What kind of trade union leader would declare just weeks before the start of over 100 Employment Tribunal cases that the actions of this rapacious, plundering employer were “by and large legal”.’