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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 September 2005, 18:27 GMT 19:27 UK
Gate Gourmet approves peace deal
Sacked Gate Gourmet workers
Sacked Gate workers campaigned to get their jobs back
Hundreds of workers at in-flight caterer Gate Gourmet have voted to accept a deal to end the long-running industrial dispute at Heathrow Airport.

This brings to an end the clash which began in August when the caterer sacked 670 staff.

The workers had staged an illegal strike to protest against the firm's hiring of temporary seasonal workers.

Staff at British Airways then walked out in sympathy, causing chaos for thousands of travellers.

Under the deal struck between union officials at the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) and managers at the US-owned company about 144 workers will be forced to take compulsory redundancy.

But hundreds of others will take voluntary redundancy.

"I am pleased however that our shop stewards and members have accepted a settlement that will see the great majority of our members go back to work or take voluntary separation," said Tony Woodley, the T&G's union's general secretary.

Wildcat strike

Back in August, the two-day wildcat action by British Airways (BA) ground staff at Heathrow stopped all the airline's flights leaving the airport, stranding more than 100,000 passengers and costing the airline an estimated 40m ($72m).

It also left BA unable to provide normal in-flight meals once services resumed, with many passengers instead being given vouchers with which to buy their food from the airport.

Passenger affected by the BA strike in August
The sympathy strike by BA workers stranded 100,000 passengers

After the BA staff had returned to work, the stand-off at Gate Gourmet rumbled on, with the sacked staff picketing outside the caterer's Heathrow factory.

To try to end the dispute, at the end of August Gate Gourmet offered all staff - including those that had been sacked - redundancy packages.

About 700 staff - 300 of those sacked and 400 from the existing Gate Gourmet employees - applied to accept the offer, according to the union.

Bankruptcy threat

One remaining disagreement at the time was Gate Gourmet's insistence that it would not re-employ 200 so-called "troublemakers".

The time has come for reform to make certain this dark episode in industrial relations is not repeated
Tony Woodley, T&G

But now Gate Gourmet and the T&G have agreed on the issue.

The US-owned caterer said all along that its UK operation faced going into administration if it could not cut costs.

It has since provisionally secured the improved BA contract it said its UK business needs to secure its financial survival, but the airline warned all along that this was dependent upon Gate Gourmet and the T&G coming to agreement.

BA is Gate Gourmet's largest customer in the UK.

Legislation plea

The T&G pressed home its call for fresh employment laws in the wake of the bitter dispute at Heathrow at the Labour Party conference in Brighton this week.

It wants legislation to allow workers to take supportive industrial action in similar disputes.

General Secretary Tony Woodley today wrote to delegates thanking them for their support and making it clear that employment laws in the UK were failing workers.

"The time has come for reform to make certain this dark episode in industrial relations is not repeated," he wrote.

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