Threats to Heathrow flights in HGV drivers row

HGV drivers at top Heathrow airline catering company balloted for strike action on pay and employment conditions

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About 100 HGV drivers at premium aviation catering firm DO & CO at Heathrow are being balloted for strike action over pay and employment conditions, following scrutiny of its stewardship of workers’ pensions. 

Unite the union said that any industrial action would cause major disruption to mainly BA flights, particularly long haul, during the school holidays as food has to be on board for pilots and cabin crew as part of their employment contracts. As a result, Unite warned that flights could be cancelled. 

Unite has already reported the Vienna-based company, whose clients include top airlines such as BA and Cathay Pacific, to The Pensions Regulator over allegations that workers’ pensions are not being invested properly.

The union, which represents a majority of the workforce, is also angry that the bosses refuse to discuss a pay claim or update the recognition agreement that covers the employment conditions of staff. The ballot of the HGV drivers closes on Friday, February 11 – it is the first time that Unite has called such a ballot at this operation.

The current bout of industrial discontent stems from the transfer (TUPE) of 1,800 workers from Gate Gourmet and DHL Supply Service Chain to DO & CO Event & Airline Catering Ltd in the summer of 2020 at the height of the pandemic. 

By the end of that year, over 1,000 workers had been made redundant. As a result, the company is now facing an employment tribunal due to its mishandling of the redundancy process with two pending group legal claims citing unfair dismissal.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said, “By any measure, the behaviour of this company is appalling, taking advantage of the pandemic to sack hard working staff. Unite will fully support our members as they seek justice at the employment tribunal.

“We take very seriously the claims that our members’ money for their retirement is not being invested properly,” she added. “In fact, the situation is worse as pension contributions are still being placed into one of DO & CO’s bank accounts without the agreement of our members. 

“This is an employer who claims that ‘We treat our employees like family as this is a family run business’  and also says it is a premium caterer with high standards, despite paying their staff some of the lowest rates in the London region,” Graham continued.

“This hypocrisy will cause this company severe reputational damage, unless all the outstanding issues relating to pay and a recognition agreement are dealt with in a prompt and satisfactory manner.”

Unite regional officer Shereen Higginson added, “Our members have never had it easy with DO & CO at Heathrow since the massive TUPE of about 1,800 staff, with over 1,000 staff being made redundant. Enough is enough. Our members want to fight for what is their right – to have a recognition agreement in place covering the pre-existing members at DO & CO and to negotiate decent pay, as well as terms and conditions.

“Industrial action could cause major disruption for BA and other airlines as pilots and cabin crew are required to have food on board as part of their contracts. The impact would be most severe on flights of more than six hours in duration – three hours to the destination and three back to the UK. No food on board equals no flights.”

Unite is dedicated to advancing the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and will fight back against any efforts to diminish workers’ living standards.

By Shaun Noble

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