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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 August 2005, 21:32 GMT 22:32 UK
Agreement on airline caterer row
Gate Gourmet picket
A wildcat walkout at Gate Gourmet 15 days ago sparked the jobs row
Airline catering company Gate Gourmet has agreed a deal which may help to end the labour dispute that sparked travel chaos at Heathrow Airport.

The firm and the Transport & General Workers' Union agreed staff, including 670 sacked workers, would be given the chance to take voluntary redundancy.

Those who wished to leave would get compensation. The deal offers hope that some sacked staff may get re-employed.

Thousands were stranded when airport staff walked out over the sackings.

Although some agreement has now been reached, the issue of alleged militant workers returning is still to be tackled.

Gate Gourmet has always said that 200 so-called "troublemakers" among the 670 sacked employees would not be allowed to return.

"After a constructive meeting, we have made initial progress towards resolving the problems with an outline of how to go forward that would apply to all workers," said the T&G's chief negotiator Brenton Gold.

"Further discussions will now take place."

Workforce reduction

While 670 Gate Gourmet workers were sacked, the company now has a workforce of 1,400.

"Our duty is to protect our 1,400 workers who have stood by us during this time," said the company in a statement.

It added that the framework agreed with the T&G would "allow the company to address its ongoing staffing needs in a way that is fair to all employees, adopt necessary work rule changes, and stem the losses that have put the company on the brink of administration".

Gate said the aim was to reduce its workforce to levels agreed by the union "that will make the company economically viable".

It added that the voluntary redundancy program could be followed by compulsory redundancies.

Sympathy strike

The dispute broke out on 10 August when Gate Gourmet sacked the staff after they illegally walked out in protest at the firm's restructuring plans.

British Airways ground staff later walked out in sympathy for two days, forcing the airline to shut down operations at Heathrow airport.

Gate Gourmet, which says it is losing 25m a year, has warned it faces going into administration in the UK unless BA, its main British customer, signs a new deal.

That contract - reported to involve a two-year extension to the current contract at a better price - was struck on Tuesday, but is dependent on the labour issues being resolved.

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