Dispute was last straw for half of HR at Gate Gourmet

The high-profile industrial dispute at Gate Gourmet last year has cost the in-flight caterer half its UK HR team, the company has revealed.

Speaking at Personnel Today’s HR Directors Club last week, Richard Wells, vice-president, HR Europe, admitted that the dispute at Heathrow Airport had taken its toll on Gate Gourmet’s 19-strong HR team.

“Half of the team has left or are leaving, but you can’t blame them,” he said. “It has been an exhausting six months and they have had to deal with the sacking of 800 staff, the re-engagement of 252 so far, and a massive recruitment and induction programme. And all the time, they were being abused and harassed. I can never be grateful enough to them.”

Wells said that recruiting new HR staff had been a challenge, but that he had already filled four of the six senior HR vacancies.

“What happened last summer may put some people off working for Gate Gourmet, but you do get some HR people who enjoy a challenge,” he said. “And while I wouldn’t say that all publicity is good publicity, it has given us a profile we didn’t have before.”

Wells said Gate Gourmet had finally resolved the dispute more than six months after the original wildcat strike of 10 August. Nearly 300 of the 800 staff sacked for their illegal action are back at work, and the remainder have accepted ‘voluntary’ compensation.

He credited TUC general secretary Brendan Barber with brokering Gate Gour-met’s eventual deal with the Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G).

“[Barber’s] was a most helpful intervention, and he was able to do what Acas couldn’t,” said Wells.

Ultimately, however, Wells blamed Gate Gourmet’s own management for what happened. “The management had the industrial relations it deserved, and HR was just as responsible as the rest of the team for the business not being well managed in the past. Some outdated working practices hadn’t changed for 13 years, but the company just put up with it.”

Wildcat strike: the facts and the fiction

Richard Wells said he was pleased to have the opportunity to speak to an HR audience and address some of the myths he claims were created by the unions and the media.

Myth Gate Gourmet provoked workers into striking.

Fact This was the seventh illegal strike in three years.

Myth Workers were sacked in three minutes.

Fact The company spent two hours asking them to return
to work.

Myth Striking workers were locked in the canteen.

Fact They barricaded themselves in and refused to leave.

Myth Workers were poorly paid.

Fact Pay rates were and are 10% to 30% above the Heathrow average.

Myth The majority of dismissed workers were women.

Fact More than half (55%) were men.

Myth Gate Gourmet was union busting.

Fact It resolved the dispute with the T&G and is still working with the union.

Myth Gate Gourmet was responsible for the disruption of flights at Heathrow.

Fact A wildcat strike by BA employees grounded the planes.

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