Covid-19 'smokescreen' to cut jobs and conditions

Heathrow airline catering companies poised to axe 3,000 jobs

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About 3,000 workers face losing their jobs as Heathrow catering companies use Covid-19 not only as an excuse to axe jobs, but as ‘a smokescreen’ to undermine employment conditions for those that remain.

Unite is highlighting the plight of what it describes as ‘the invisible army of aviation caterers’, who provide meals for some of the world’s biggest airlines, including British Airways, Emirates and Virgin Atlantic.

Unite called on the four catering companies involved in the job cutting to pause the process and look to the long-term when the aviation and tourism sectors stage a post-pandemic recovery.

Among these firms are Austrian-owned DO & CO which announced this week that 2,134 employees were under threat that would leave just 300 workers. Its biggest customer is British Airways

Alpha LSG, another firm, has said that 697 staff are at risk of redundancy, with bosses proposing a 16 hour working week with only statutory terms and conditions. Its customers include American Airlines and Emirates.

Meanwhile, firm Gate Gourmet has announced it is consulting on 151 jobs losses and attempting to slash employment terms on the current contracts. Clients include Delta, Korean Air and Virgin Atlantic.

Also involved in job cuts, Newrest has already dismissed 90 half their staff and failed to engage with the unions.

Unite regional officer Shereen Higginson said, “When passengers board their planes, they expect meals and drinks, which are provided by an invisible army of aviation caterers.

“But now about 3,000 of them out of a total Heathrow catering workforce of 4,500 are facing the axe as key catering companies refuse to look to the long-term when the aviation and tourism sectors take-off again in the post-pandemic economy,” she added.

“What we find even more disturbing is that we can see that managements are using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to cut long-standing employment terms and conditions.

“These catering firms already pay our members desperately low wages and refuse to pay the London living wage, currently £10.75 an hour. There is now the suggestion that some workers do part-time work for just 16 hours per week – which is not financially feasible for our members as west London has a high cost of living,” Higginson went on to say.

“Our members feel let down, numb and many angered by their employer, giving their loyalty and dedication for their key role for many years of continuous service.

“These job losses will have long-term economic impacts on the local communities where our members live, with the likelihood of entire families being made redundant and potentially facing long term unemployment.

“We strongly urge these companies to engage in meaningful talks with Unite to ensure that jobs are safeguarded, with no permanent changes to terms and conditions, as we go through this short-term period of economic turbulence.

“Employers need to look to the future with imagination and flexibility so they have the workforces in place when the recovery happens – they should look to the skies.

“Failure of these employers to work constructively with Unite on such a serious matter could lead us into disputes across the airport.”

By Shaun Noble

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