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Gate Gourmet provoked confrontation to justify sackings

Jim Jepps

No workforce - no profitsLeaked documents from Gate Gourmet management show that last year they discussed how to provoke mass unofficial strike by workers at Heathrow in order to legally sack workers without compensation and hire new workers (to be recruited in Poland) at reduced conditions.

A secret internal briefing presented to bosses at British Airways' catering company Gate Gourmet, owned by American venture capitalists Texas Pacific, reads:

"Recruit, train and security check drivers.

"Announce intention to trade union, provoking unofficial industrial action from staff. Dismiss current workforce. Replace with new staff."

The document then sets out a 15-week timetable for goading employees into striking so they could be replaced with lower-paid Eastern European labour trained in secret. A spokesman for Gate Gourmet admitted that the plan had been floated. However, he insisted it was never actually implemented. Despite all the evidence to the contrary.

Like clockwork the plan was put into operation and did indeed lead to the work force of hundreds of workers to walk out on unofficial action. Then, brilliantly more than 1,000 BA workers at Heathrow walked out in sympathy for those they work alongside of, making Gate Gourmet's plan to walk over their workers far harder than they had anticipated.

TGWU shop steward, Sarijit Singh, told the Mirror, who broke the story, that "We've always believed the actions were pre-planned. Now we are in no doubt... The lengths they've gone to are truly shocking."

Union negotiator S Dhillon speaking at a rally encouraged the angry workers to return to a picket line outside Gate Gourmet’s offices. “Treat us with respect and dignity - that is what we ask for and it doesn’t cost anything,” he said, prompting more cheers.


11 Aug 2005

To all Heathrow Airport customers

From the workers at Gate Gourmet catering company

Dear customer,

We would like to explain to you why your journey today will be less comfortable than it should be. We are the workers who provide your in-flight meals. We are employed by Gate Gourmet, an international company whose chief client in the UK is British Airways.

On Wednesday, August 10th, 2005, Gate Gourmet sacked 800 workers employed at Heathrow. Fellow workers reporting for duty on Thursday 11th August 2005 were faced with the ultimatum of signing a new contract which would slash pay and conditions or face the sack.

As catering assistants we are paid just £12,000 a year. As drivers we are paid less than £16,000 per year.

These are very low wages by any standards, but especially in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Yet Gate Gourmet is seeking to push them even lower, and us even closer to poverty.

At the same time, the management team has awarded themselves hefty pay rises. We are therefore picketing today to draw attention to this harsh, shameless mistreatment of a loyal and hard-working workforce by a company which has no respect for labour relations or for basic employment rights.

Our trade union, the Transport & General Workers' Union, has been working for months with the management of Gate Gourmet to try to stabilise the financial circumstances of the company.

Despite this terrible treatment, we want our jobs back. We want decent treatment at work. And no disruption to your travel plans.

Please support us in our fight to get our jobs back. Please tell Gate Gourmet and British Airways to re-employ the sacked workers and sit down with the T&G to resolve the dispute.

Thank you for your support

The workers of Gate Gourmet


"Fairly tough negotiations are happening," said a TGWU spokesman. "The biggest sticking point between the two parties is whether the 670 sacked workers can be reinstated." Gate Gourmet has already filled its factory with Polish labourers, recruited in exactly the manner laid out in the documents leaked to the Mirror.

Despite these revelations Labour MP Barry Sheerman, chairman of the Commons Education Select Committee, attacked the work force and said a "malign influence" was at work in the airport, unfortunately he did not mean the Gate Gourmet bosses.

It is "no accident" the rows flare up in August as "they are pre-planned and plotted", according to the Huddersfield MP.

"There is some malign influence at Heathrow that is putting these things on in August," Mr Sheerman said.

"There is no doubt about it, we have a leadership out of control at Heathrow, the T&G particularly has no backbone. It is spineless union leadership."

Sheerman should resign for this disgusting attack on a work force already under massive pressure - and if he wont resign he should be sacked... you can email him direct at or his constituency office at  if you have anything to say to him on this matter.


There is no doubt that it is the action by Gate Gourmet and BA workers combined that have brought this repulsive situation to international attention and have given the company cause to worry about their wage slashing agenda. They should be congratulated and supported for their stand against union bashing, and any victory that they can win is a victory for workers everywhere.



The following message of support to the sacked workers is a good template for others to use...


I am writing to you from the Camden UNISON Housing Stewards committee to show you our support and solidarity in your fight for reinstatement to your jobs with no attacks on your terms and conditions.

We are disgusted with the company and their managers for the sackings and for the way they sacked you (by megaphone!) as well as hiring cheaper labour to do your jobs.

We congratulate all the baggage handlers who walked out in solidarity with your strike who made the attention of the national media focus on your important dispute.

We are doing collections around our different workplaces for your strike fund, and we will be bringing those collections to your picket lines.

We hope you win your dispute quickly as you deserve to have a quick victory to this serious attack from the management of Gate Gourmet.

As the UNISON Deputy Regional Convenor for Greater London I will personally try and get this raised at the regional level for solidarity. 

In solidarity.

Mandy Berger

UNISON Convenor.


Messages of support can be sent to and


August 2005

See also
Roy Hattersley in the Guardian
there is also a very interesting article in the Gulf Times
Sacked workers clamour for justice
and Times online carried this article which readers may find amusing
Protesters in saris chased by armed police

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