No HR professional would like to be in Andy Cook’s shoes right now. Little did he know that just weeks after taking on his new job as HR director of airline caterer Gate Gourmet, he would be handling one of the highest-profile industrial disputes in years. In this drama of modern-day industrial relations, Cook has had to take centre stage against a backdrop of bitterness between management and the Transport and General Workers’ (T&G) union.
In our exclusive interview with Cook this week (page 1), he openly admits that being thrust into the media spotlight as the company’s chief spokesman has been difficult for him, both personally and professionally. While resolving not to be “held to ransom by the troublemakers”, he is conscious of the need to work in partnership with the T&G to put an end to this dispute.
A former unionist himself, he believes unions have a major part to play in the workplace. But instead of engaging in conflict, he insists employer and union should “act sensibly”.
The fact that an HR director has played such a pivotal role highlights the importance of people issues in this dispute.
At the heart of it all is Gate Gourmet’s plan to revise its “outdated working practices”, cut its headcount and make cost savings of up to 14m.
HR directors would do well to take a look around their organisations and make sure they aren’t letting any bad practices fester to the detriment of their business.
Deal with them, in sensible partnership with the unions, and ensure that people issues are prioritised every step of the way. To do otherwise could be very public and very painful.
By Karen Dempsey, editor