Corporate Watch presents an interview with Mrs Kaur, one of the striking workers at airline catering company Gate Gourmet. Mrs Kaur has worked at Gate Gourmet for over six and a half years.
Have conditions changed over the past few years?
When someof us at Gate Gourmet were still under British Airways contracts, we used to provide the food for 45-55 flights. When management changed hands this increased and in recent years we have provided food for over 80 flights, and this on the same rate of pay and working hours, not on overtime. An increased wage was offered as an incentive but nothing ever came of this. Many a time we have asked for some sort of pay-rise but we were always told that this was not possible due to the company 'losing money'.
How did the Gate Gourmet management treat people before the dispute?
Hans Boesch often called meeting with the workers to ask for our ideas on how to improve work output/condition. We were grateful for this opportunity to give our input but he never seemed to act on our ideas. He often used to compare us to the cheap labourers in India which used to anger us, as we may be Indian but we are citizens here and have lived, worked and paid taxes here for many years now.
One of our major complaints with the organisation of Gate Gourmet was that there seemed to be too many levels of management to go through before anything could be changed. For example, if we thought something was wrong with the food that we were packing we would first have to tell our team leader who would then need to inform the controller who then had to inform the chef, and so on through three more levels of management before the situation was rectified. This was a waste of time but nothing was ever done about this, except to expand the management team -- which confused many of us.
On the one hand we were being told the company was losing money and on the other hand more management team members were being introduced, and in 2002 many of them had their wages increased, from £17k to £25k. How this was possible after constantly being told the company was in loss -- especially after the 9/11 -- incident no one has ever been able to explain to me, even after my constant questioning of many of the management.
So even after hearing us out about how there were too many levels of management, it was us, the workers, rather than the excessive management, who were offered redundancies in June 2005. These were made because the company didn't have enough money to keep us on; but even these redundancy offers were later withdrawn.
There was also talk of reducing our sick pay from three weeks to five days, which no one agreed too, but I think which now under the new contracts has been introduced.
Could you describe in your own words, how this dispute started?
On the 9th of August we were told that the seasonal/temp workers were being brought in. I asked why this was being done, seeing as the company had wanted to get rid of 630 staff (according to the original offers of redundancy in June). I was told that these temp workers were being brought in to cover some of the staff that had left -- some 15 people, hardly enough to justify the 130 temps that were actually employed. We had already recently been told that our workload was going to be reduced as some of it was being transferred over to one of the other buildings in the area ---so why more staff were being employed was most confusing.
These concerns are what sparked off a meeting called by the workers.
Have you been surprised by any of the Gate Gourmet management's actions during the dispute?
I was not there the day people were dismissed but what I have heard from friends and colleagues was quite shocking. Women had water chucked on them and were dragged from the building by management-- it's disgusting behaviour. People were not allowed to get water, to go to the toilet...and some of these people were diabetic and pregnant. Also, they were only given three minutes notice to get back to work, and in the meanwhile the temporary staff had already taken their positions and were doing some of the work.
It is confusing how this temporary staff was arranged so quickly, because it takes a long while before criminal record checks and health assessments are completed.
What has been your contact with people working for BA and other airline companies?
Union members have spoken with them and many still come out to protest with us and we are very thankful for this. They always show their support for us as they go past on the way to work, as do Royal Mail. But other than this we have no direct contact with them.
What has the impact of the dispute been on you and your family?
Well obviously the income has substantially decreased but it is the mental impact that is worse I think. When you are so used to getting up every morning and going to work, suddenly not having anything to do all day is extremely strange. My family have been extremely supportive and have helped with the protests.
How are you and other workers getting information about the dispute?
When we are protesting up on the hill someone from the Union will usually come down and update us on the situation so far. But on practical things, like the money being sent in to a hardship fund for us, we were not informed about till recently, and many people didn't even know any money was being collected or the level of support from around the country we were getting.
Have any particular organisations or groups been helpful, or been a problem?
There have people from lots of organisations who have come down to offer their support, but I can't really remember the names of all of them. The Sikh temples have been very helpful in supporting us by sending us food and water every day while we protest, which is very much appreciated as is all other messages of support and donations.
How do you see the dispute progressing?
I think the company's aim is to ultimate break down the Union. People are desperate, they need the money and the solidarity is breaking. People want to work and want to be able to earn for themselves. For many people it is a real blow as often both a husband and wife have been working at Gate Gourmet and both have lost their jobs now, so you can imagine the effects of losing two incomes.
To support the Gate Gourmet workers, send money to: Gate Gourmet Hardship Fund c/o Mr E McDermott, Regional Secretary TGWU, 218 Green Lanes, London N4 2HB Send messages of support to: [email protected] For up to date info, visit, www.sackedbygategourmet.org.uk