Soft landing in sight for dispute between BA and Gate Gourmet

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The Independent Online

The turbulent relationship between British Airways and caterer Gate Gourmet is finally set to be resolved this week.

Although the two sides have agreed new contract terms, BA has so far refused to sign. The airline wants assurances that certain "operational issues" are sorted out, including establishing a date when food will be available again on short-haul flights, before it puts pen to paper. At the moment, BA is providing passengers with vouchers for free food at airports.

But hopes are growing that the two sides will come to an agreement as early as this week. BA's new chief executive, Willie Walsh, told The Independent on Sunday: "We are putting a lot of pressure on Gate Gourmet and it will have to work out the problems that we have discussed. We hope matters will become clear towards the end of the week. We have not signed a new contract as yet; we have agreed it but we have not signed it.

"Our intention is to continue working with Gate Gourmet. It is not easy to work with a number of suppliers, given the consolidation that is going on in the industry, and I'm not sure things would have been any better with two suppliers."

The loss-making Gate Gourmet, owned by American private equity firm Texas Pacific, was trying to change employment practices when staff walked out. Gate Gourmet sacked the workers and a bitter dispute kicked off between management and unions, leading to food shortages on BA flights. However, an agreement has since been reached on redundancies.

An insider at Gate Gourmet said of BA: "It is the last piece in the jigsaw."

The source added that food could be back on short-haul flights "in a matter of weeks" and was hopeful BA would agree to the timescale this week.