Airline caterer offers jobs to sacked staff

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The Independent Online

An in-flight catering company that dismissed hundreds of employees after a legal one-day strike 17 months ago offered to reinstate them or pay compensation yesterday, the day before the introduction of new legislation under which the sackings are illegal.

Skychefs, which serves 14 airlines at Heathrow airport, sacked about 270 workers in 1998, provoking Britain's longest industrial dispute.

The resolution coincides with new workers' rights laws that have been added to the Employment Relations Act, which from today bar employers from sacking staff during the first eight weeks of a legally called strike. Since their dismissal, the Skychefs strikers, most of whom are women of Asian origin, have picketed the company's kitchens and airlines that use the services of Skychefs, part of the German airline Lufthansa. The German embassy was also picketed, and "Don't fly Lufthansa" advertisements were issued in a campaign thought to have cost the Transport and General Workers' Union about £1m, much of it in strike pay.

The strikers are understood to have opted not to return to their jobs under the deal struck between the TGWU and the company in the past few days.

The union's general secretary, Bill Morris, who welcomed the the changing legislation, said: "Ironically, it would have been illegal for Lufthansa to sack these workers if they had gone on strike in Germany."

George Ryde, the TGWU's national secretary, said: "The Skychefs workers have fought a long and bitter struggle, but have finally brought Lufthansa Skychefs to their senses."