Talks aimed at ending the row behind the Heathrow airport chaos will continue today as it emerged that the catering firm at the centre of the dispute considered provoking strikes last year to replace staff with cheaper labour.
A secret internal briefing presented to bosses at British Airways’ catering company Gate Gourmet reads: “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 leaked draft document, prepared in 2004 and now obtained by the Daily Mirror, sets out a 15-week timetable for goading employees into striking so they could be replaced with lower-paid Eastern European labour trained in secret.
The scheme bears striking similarities to events of the last week, which saw the company summarily sack hundreds of staff who had taken unofficial action on Wednesday.
Last year’s memo also highlights the main risk of the plan as being “potential for wider Heathrow disruption”.
British Airways said its short-haul schedule had returned to normal, with long-haul flights back to 95% of the scheduled service at Heathrow today as the airport recovered from a catering row that spoiled thousands of holidays.
Only 600 frustrated travellers were in hotels or at Heathrow waiting to depart last night, and the airline hopes finally to clear the backlog by tomorrow.
Talks are due to resume this morning between the Transport and General Workers Union and Gate Gourmet managers in a bid to resolve the dispute.
A BA spokesman said last night that everybody who was on a cancelled flight now had a reconfirmed ticket.
More than 100,000 travellers are thought to have been affected by the chaos that enveloped Heathrow on Thursday after BA staff walked out in sympathy with hundreds of workers summarily sacked from in-flight catering firm Gate Gourmet.
A spokesman for Gate Gourmet admitted last night that the plan to replace staff had been floated.
However, he insisted it was never actually implemented.
“The document was fielded as a proposal by former management and it was subsequently presented to current management in 2004.
“Current management discarded the plan and its recommendations as entirely inappropriate and undesirable. The authors of the plan have since left the company.
The spokesman added: “The recommendations within previous management’s proposal were absolute rubbish. This idea plays no part on the way we do our business, end of story."
Andrew Dodgshon, spokesman for the Transport and General Workers Union, said he was not surprised by the document.
“That is entirely consistent with what we saw last week. We know what sort of company we’re dealing with here.
“I’m sure Gate Gourmet had all sort of plans and the plan put into operation last week was plain for all to see.
“But we’ve got the company moved into talking about reinstatement now. We need to keep talking.”
The Mirror says the document details three options for getting rid of employees.
The “Mile Stones” option describes how they could be fired after being provoked into industrial action.
It lists methods which could be used to aggravate the company’s drivers, including dramatically worsening their working conditions.
Among the threats are “no redundancy packages, no leaving early, no extra pay for extra work, random drug testing, no smoking, eating, or drinking in cabs”.
It also specifies how best to sack workers:
“Immediate dismissal without legal protection. Collect ID cards, airside passes, locker keys. HR to issue dismissal letters, extra security presence. Security to escort all dismissed staff from the premises.”
After the sacking, the document says management should “consistently state our case as being reasonable and willing to reconcile”.
The memo names agencies that could find replacement staff, primarily from Poland, and suggests that they could be coached in from their home country and provided with accommodation.
Rent would then be docked from their pay packets directly by the company.
According to the Mirror, the timetable also indicates that the customer – BA - should be tipped off about what was happening prior to the sackings.
“Customer: Verbally at the highest levels we should state our intention.”
However, there is no evidence that the airline was told of the mooted scheme.