Secret Plot to Sack BA Caterers
Daily Mirror: 15 August 2005
Exclusive By Greig Box And Graham Brough
"-Recruit, train, check drivers -Announce to Trade Union -Provoke unofficial strike -Dismiss current workforce -Escort them from premises -Replace with new staff"
A CATERING firm's cynical plot to sack its Heathrow workers so they could be replaced with cheap labour was spelt out in brutal terms.
In a secret internal briefing entitled "Mile Stones" and marked "Confidential", BA's caterer Gate Gourmet declared: "Recruit, train and security check drivers.
"Announce intention to trade union, provoking unofficial industrial action from staff. Dismiss current workforce. Replace with new staff."
The shocking move was part of a 15-week timetable, first mooted a year ago, to provoke workers into striking so they could be replaced with cheap East European labour trained at secret bases.
A steering committee cited the top risk as "potential for wider Heathrow based disruption".
But if the risks were high, so were the rewards. The dossier forecast the £2.5million sacking plan would save up to £6.5 million a year.
An industry expert estimated there could be annual pension savings of up to £7million. US-owned GG made a £26million loss last year and is forecast to lose £25million this year.
Documents seen by the Mirror also prove that catering staff were to be lied to while BA and BAA were to be tipped off weeks before the plot went ahead. It is not known if the tip-off went ahead.
An insider claimed that action like that detailed in the leaked documents culminated in last week's crippling protests at Heathrow.
GG sacked 670 workers following an unofficial stoppage over the employment of 130 casual staff. The move led to wildcat strikes by 1,000 other airport workers which stranded up to 100,000 BA passengers, some of them for several days.
Last week the Mirror revealed that Gate Gourmet launched a new company, Versa Logistics, to counter the threat of wildcat strikes and to hire workers on lower wages.
An insider said: "This is all about pure greed. They deliberately made the workers lives absolute hell, then told them they were outsourcing their posts to spark a reaction. It's a shocking way to treat people."
TGWU shop steward, Sarijit Singh Sandu, declared: "We've always believed the actions were pre-planned. Now we are in no doubt.
"This is what we've feared for some time. We're thankful to the Mirror for exposing the appalling managerial practices of Gate Gourmet. The lengths they've gone to are truly shocking."
The sacking plan was drawn up by a tight-knit team of hard-line businessmen from GG's US owners, the Texas Pacific Group.
They drafted three options. The most dramatic was the "Mile Stones" plan to provoke unofficial action.
Our insider said a solicitor was consulted. The source said: "He said if staff could be provoked into unofficial action they could all be sacked and have no legal redress. It would also mean the company could seek damages from individuals."
Referring to the firm's drivers, the dossier details how staff could be told their working conditions were going to be dramatically worsened, so provoking fury.
Among the threats listed were: "No redundancy packages, no leaving early, no extra pay for extra work, random drug testing, no smoking, eating or drinking in cabs."
The plan also advises how to sack staff. It reads: "Immediate dismissal without legal protection. Collect ID cards, airside passes, locker keys. HR to issue dismissal letters, extra security presence. Security to escort dismissed staff from the premises."
Under the heading "Can we replace employees?" the document lists details of agencies that could recruit staff from Eastern Europe.
It said all staff would be employed into an external company and contracted to Gate Gourmet London.
Gate Gourmet would pay deposits on rented accommodation for agency staff to live in. Rent would then be deducted from wages.
New staff would be offered coach transport from their home country to the UK. The new drivers, mainly from Poland, were to be trained in small groups of around 50 over a six-week period.
We have learned independently that all drivers drafted in last week to replace staff are Polish.
The document said: "To ensure that training does not compromise confidentiality we ensure it is done at a good distance from GG units."
Possible sites included RAF Manston, in Kent, and Blackheath, South East London.
The first eight weeks were to be spent training new workers, arranging airside passes and external PR. At this stage, GG directors were advised to tell BA and BAA of the dramatic plans.
Although rumours would circulate, they should be denied.
The timetable read: "Internal: All communication to dispel the truth should be verbal and through low level supervisory grades. Customer: Verbally at the highest levels we should state our intention. It should be made clear that leaks could disrupt our services.
"External: BAA High Level, assurances of confidentiality to be sought." The timetable then detailed what to do on the day of the sackings. After firing staff, directors were told to "continuously release statements simultaneously through the unions and local media stating our intention to resolve any official action.
"Consistently state our case as being reasonable and willing to reconcile." It added: "Hard line resolve to staff already dismissed." Our source revealed: "This was carefully planned for a year by around 15 men. They met once a week and reported to directors.
"Once a month the Atlantic Pacific directors came over from America for updates. Towards the end they came every week.
"The timetable of action kicked in as soon as Gate Gourmet lost a Virgin contract a few months ago."
Gate Gourmet said last night: "Presentations were made to the new management team in September by the then present team.
"A number of proposals were made, of which this was one. The new management team decided it was a complete nonsense and put it straight into the bin.
"The old management team are no longer at the business. We have not implemented this strategy and have no intention of doing so."
A spokesman admitted that eight or nine new drivers hired by the company were Polish.