Hundreds of Thomas Cook workers descended on Parliament to demand answers from the government and from the company to whom they’ve loyally dedicated years of their working lives.
The workers, largely cabin crew, vented their fury over failing to be paid their wages after travel firm Thomas Cook went bust last week (September 23). The insolvency service confirmed earlier this week that workers will not be paid for the most recent pay period and instead will become Thomas Cook creditors.
This has left some workers up to seven weeks without pay.
Delivering two separate petitions – one to Downing Street demanding a full inquiry into Thomas Cook’s collapse and another to business secretary Andrea Leadsom demanding that she intervene and ensure workers get paid their wages – the protesting Thomas Cook workers, Unite members, told harrowing stories of their final days on the job.
Emma French, from Newcastle, was on holiday in Jamaica, due to fly back on a Thomas Cook airline the Monday the company went bust.
“My first thought was – this is happening; this isn’t real,” she said. “We were promised that the company would find a buyer. Reality didn’t hit for me until I boarded the repatriation flight back home with Virgin. The Virgin crew put their arms around us and told us how sorry they were.”
Mother and daughter Nicky and Charlotte (pictured), both Thomas Crew cabin crew workers until the company went bust, told UniteLive of their shock when they first heard the news that they no longer had jobs.
“But that shock and sadness turns to anger when you feel really frustrated and let down by the company – when all these stories come out about the CEOs raking in so much in bonuses while the rest of us suffer,” daughter Charlotte said.
“We didn’t find out that we wouldn’t get paid until quite late,” Nicky explained. “We’ve had hardly any contact from the company at all. The day were supposed to get our payslips is the day we got our redundancy notice.”
Now Nicky and Charlotte have found themselves in a position they may never have imagined – Charlotte’s sister, one of three of Nicky’s daughters, is now supporting the whole family.
“My sister is paying all the bills at the moment because my other sister is a full-time student and now that we’re both not working, she’s the only one,” Charlotte said.
Now, Nicky said, both she and Charlotte have come to demand answers.
“Why didn’t they sell the airline? Why did they let us go under? The airline was profitable,” Nicky told UniteLive. “This needs to be investigated by the government. This didn’t have to happen.”
Like Nicky and Charlotte, cabin crew manager and Unite branch secretary Martin Browne (pictured below) knows what it’s like to work in a Thomas Cook ‘family’ of breadwinners – he and his wife had forty years working at the airline between them.
“We’ve just been dumped. This has devastated us. Yesterday I went for my Universal Credit interview. I’ve never been unemployed – ever. I’ve had to borrow money from a friend to make sure my bills were paid this month. But at the minute, I’ve still got no job so I’m not sure how I’m going to pay it back.”
Thomas Cook workers face not only the loss of their jobs and wages, but many also told of losing a cherished part of their identity.
Leanne, a cabin crew manager who has worked for Thomas Cook for more than two decades, said she fears not being able to find another job in the industry again.
“I work part-time because I have two children, and outside of Thomas Cook, working part-time in cabin crew is virtually impossible,” she explained. “I just about managed on my job with the money, the kids, and the time I needed to spend with them and what I needed to do to support them. I keep having heart palpitations thinking, ‘What am I going to do now’?
“People don’t understand. Cabin crew is like a big family. We all go away together on trips, we cry together, we laugh together, we drink together and everyone supports each other. It’s not like a normal job,” Leanne said, fighting back tears. “I’m absolutely terrified thinking about the future – about supporting my daughters. It’s really frightening.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, alongside many of the shadow cabinet and dozens of Labour MPs, joined the protesting Thomas Cook workers in a show of support and solidarity.
Addressing the workers, Corbyn [pictured above] said, “[Thomas Cook] directors walked away with massive bonuses – they knew what was happening and they paid themselves, and left you high and dry. You’re the ones who showed due diligence, you’re the ones who stood up for the public; you’re the ones who behaved responsibly, not them.”
He lambasted the UK government for failing to act, while Thomas Cook subsidiaries in Germany, Scandinavia and Spain were assisted by their respective governments so that jobs were saved.
“[Labour] might not be in government yet, but I say this to you – any problem like this in the future, a Labour government will intervene; it will protect a public asset; it will protect jobs; and a Labour government would protect a company with such a great name as Thomas Cook, which after all was publicly owned for a very long time.”
Corbyn pledged that Labour in opposition will work with Thomas Cook workers now and do all it can to make sure their wages are paid.
Unite assistant general secretary Diana Holland also vowed the union would leave no stone unturned in securing justice and unpaid wages for its members in Thomas Cook.
“Nobody should be treated like this. There were five offers to buy [Thomas Cook] – how come it was grounded? How come we’re in this position? We have to ask those questions and we’ve got to look at what we can do to support everyone here.”
She told of the many Unite members she’s spoken to who have dedicated their lives to a company that’s turned their backs on them.
“They’re saying, what now? Who’s looking after me? [I’m here to say] we’re not forgetting you. You are part of our bigger family – and we will make sure as a union to let you know that you are not alone.”