The Gate Gourmet pickets at Heathrow Airport yesterday had a Transport and General Workers Union shop stewards report back on a meeting held with TGWU General Secretary Tony Woodley at Transport House in London on Thursday afternoon.
Shop steward Jim Wickar addressed the pickets assembled on the hill, saying: ‘We got to the meeting at 1.30pm and left at 6.30pm. Tony Woodley, Brendan Barber and many others were there.
‘We heard that the cost of this dispute has been £14 million to BA and over £100 million to the country.
‘Woodley said our sacking is top of the TUC agenda and we want changes in the law.
‘We said we all go back together or not at all, that is our position.
‘We were told you will never go back on your old conditions. The package that you voted against are the terms under which you will return.’
TGWU shop steward Richard Quo told the picket: ‘Don’t rely on the law to get us out of this.
‘The law is for the employers. The employment laws don’t necessarily give you the right to a tribunal.’
TGWU shop steward Gurdip Heer told News Line: ‘Tony Woodley said the work practices will change for those that go back.
‘He said the company wants lots of people to take redundancy.
‘He said it’s up to you whether you want to take redundancy or not.
‘We told him we all need to go inside together before we will talk about redundancy, and on our old terms and conditions not new ones.
‘I am very worried for my people, they all need their jobs. When we go to the TUC next week we are calling for action not words.’
Picket Parmjit Bains said: ‘I want to see these union leaders face to face at the TUC on Monday. I want to find out what they are going to do to win our jobs back.
‘We are all going to be shouting “We Want Our Jobs!”.
‘We are going to show our power.’
Mrs R Bhatti said: ‘Tony Woodley should not say it’s up to you whether you go for redundancy.
‘Any talk of redundancy should only be when we are all back inside on our original terms and conditions.
‘Woodley is not doing what we want, we want action now to win.’
Shop steward, Mrs Somra said: ‘We don’t accept any victimisations and we all want reinstatement on our old terms and conditions.’
Kirin said: ‘We want leaders to fight for us to win no matter what.
‘We are all going down to the TUC on Monday shouting ‘We want our jobs’.
Another picket, Mr Raj said: ‘We have been here for one month now.
‘We were locked out on the 10th of August and BA workers came out straightaway in sympathy action, but instead of negotiating our immediate reinstatement then, when BA and Gate Gourmet would have had to settle, Woodley and Brendan Gold told the BA shop stewards to take their members back to work.
‘So now for the past month they have been negotiating with the company while we have been outside.
‘We have had enough of talks, we want action to win by the TGWU and the TUC now.’
Fellow picket Rana, said: ‘On Monday or Tuesday at the latest we need the union to give us the date for our immediate reinstatement, all of us.
‘We must all go back together.’
• Second news story
Prevent repeat of Gourmet dispute – TGWU urges Labour
Yesterday the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU) announced that ‘leaders of the trade union movement’ have written to Alan Johnson MP, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to ‘urge the Labour government to strengthen employment legislation to avoid a repeat of the Gate Gourmet dispute’.
In their letter to Johnson, endorsed by the TUC General Council, the unions say the dispute ‘has exposed serious inadequacies in UK employment law’.
The TGWU statement added: ‘The actions of Gate Gourmet, which summarily sacked 667 workers on the 10th August, has appalled trade unions and caused alarm within the labour movement.
‘The Transport and General Workers’ Union continues to negotiate with Gate Gourmet in an attempt to resolve the situation, with facilitation by the TUC.
‘Writing to Alan Johnson, the leaders of the trade union movement which include general secretaries Brendan Barber (TUC), Tony Woodley (TGWU), Dave Prentis (UNISON), Derek Simpson (Amicus), Paul Kenny (GMB), call for the government to progress the EU directive on temporary agency labour, a key commitment from the Warwick agreement prior to the general election, and to look at the possibility of introducing emergency or retrospective legislation for justice for the Gate Gourmet workers.
‘They urge the government to “assess urgently the adequacy of UK labour law” in four key areas: protecting strikers from dismissal; barring the replacement of workers in dispute; permitting lawful supportive action; and simplifying balloting procedures.’
The TGWU quotes from the letter: ‘We are also extremely concerned that the dispute was provoked by Gate Gourmet in order to replace existing staff with workers on lower pay and conditions, without notice or redundancy pay.
‘The company’s preparedness to deploy already trained workers, brought in from overseas and paid poorer wages and with no sick pay or pensions, suggests the company’s purpose was lowering labour costs and breaking union membership.
‘It cannot be acceptable in modern-day Britain that a ruthless employer can turn on the most vulnerable workers in this way with impunity. . .
‘We sincerely hope that these workers will receive the backing of this Labour government and that you will do all in your power to ensure that the deficiencies in employment law are addressed so that this darkest episode is not repeated.’
The TGWU adds: ‘The T&G will be leading the calls for change in employment legislation at TUC Congress (Monday 12th – Thursday 15th September) and at Labour Party Conference (Sunday 25th – Thursday 29th September).’