Talks to begin over Heathrow catering row

Talks are set to begin in an attempt to resolve the industrial dispute, which has led to the cancellation of flights and the stranding of over 70,000 passengers at London’s Heathrow airport.

Around 1,000 ground staff at Heathrow who had walked out in sympathy with sacked catering staff at meals supplier Gate Gourmet looked set to return to work on Friday.

The conciliation service ACAS confirmed that talks will take place between the Transport and General Workers Union and catering firm Gate Gourmet on Friday.

Though despite the move by ground staff to return to work all BA flights in and out of Heathrow remained suspended as a result of the 48-hour dispute and are not expected to resume until late Friday at the earliest.

The dispute began on Wednesday, when around 800 staff from Gate Gourmet, the sole catering provider for British Airways flights from Heathrow, were sacked. The company claimed it was due to unofficial strike action taken by the staff over the hiring of 130 seasonal staff, although the TGWU claimed that the company provoked the dispute and accused them of planning the sackings in advance.

Gate Gourmet has insisted that the sacked staff would not be reinstated and said that the company was facing a “financial crisis” and needed to restructure. It described the events as a “devastating blow”.

The strike at the catering supplier left BA flights from Heathrow without meals, forcing the company to issue food vouchers and bags of food to long-haul passengers.

However, the situation escalated on Thursday, when around 1,000 BA staff, including baggage handlers, loaders and drivers, walked out on an unofficial strike, in sympathy with the sacked Gate Gourmet staff.

The situation forced BA to cancel all long and short haul flights from Heathrow, leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

The TGWU has said that it does not support the strike action taken by the BA staff and urged them to return to work.

It is understood that BA was forced to put up around 4,000 stranded passengers in hotels on Thursday evening, while another 1,000 were forced to spend the night in the airport.

BA said that the action had left nearly 100 aircraft and 1,000 pilots and cabin crew staff in the wrong places around the world.

The dispute will cost BA an estimated £10 million per day, if it continues. BA said that it will re-book customers due to travel on cancelled flights, but warned that it is likely to be after the weekend. Customers would be able to book to travel to an alternative destination or take a refund, BA said.

BA urged any customers due to take flights from Heathrow on Friday to contact the helpline before coming to the airport for information on whether or not their flight was departing. The number is: 0870 850 9 850.


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