Staff row threatens Gate Gourmet's BA deal

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The Independent Online

Talks will resume today in an effort to resolve the bitter dispute. But the atmosphere is growing increasingly tense with the union expressing dismay over what it regarded as a company walkout last night.

The discussions will centre on the elements of a redundancy package aimed at cutting the 1,400-strong workforce to stem losses of around £25m a year.

Tony Woodley, general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union (T&G) is seeking a deal on voluntary severance but the company is insisting that the ringleaders of a walkout should remain sacked.

It is understood that management is refusing to take back some 200 of the 670 mainly Asian workers who were dismissed for taking wildcat action.

Brendan Gold, chief negotiator for the T&G, said that, in his opinion, the company had walked out of negotiations with staff. "I am despondent and disgusted at the way things have been concluded and I feel very frustrated at the lack of progress. Everything we were working towards has collapsed," he said.

Mr Gold said the main issue remained the reinstatement of all the workers, adding: "The company seems to have a view that we have 200 militant troublemakers but if you look at the picket line you will know that this is not true."

The US-owned catering company's deal with BA hinges on Gate Gourmet resolving the staff dispute and there was little sign of that last night. Failure to reach an amicable arrangement with its sacked workers will render the improved BA settlement virtually worthless, and may force the catering group into collapse.

David Siegel, chairman of Gate Gourmet, said the new contract would stem the company's multimillion-pound losses and has removed the imminent threat of administration. He said he was still "cautiously optimistic" that an agreement with unions could be reached but he said last night that the company would not reinstate all the workers who were dismissed two weeks ago. "The hardliners and militants are never coming back," he said.

Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress who had helped bring the two sides together, said he was "disappointed" at last night's outcome.

"There is considerable uncertainty now," he said. "Earlier we seemed to be making good progress."