In the aftermath of the illegal wildcat strike at Gate Gourmet at London Heathrow in 2005 there was an urgent need for a director level HR professional, with experience of industrial relations, to take up the reins and help to resolve the issues.

 

“Within nine months Gary had put the interim HR team in place, reached agreement with the Trade Union, put in place a company wide HR strategy and set up a new internal communications strategy…”

Eric Born, Managing Director of UK and Ireland for Gate Gourmet

Gate Gourmet provides air catering services to airlines across the world. The dispute at Heathrow started when the company, backed by a Private Equity company, attempted to restructure in 2005, after many years of loss making and a cost base that was far too high. A national level agreement and arrangements were put in place with the Trade Union, TGWU, to implement the restructuring, but locally the workforce disagreed and voted against the deal. An illegal, unofficial strike followed and the company dismissed around 800 people for this illegal industrial action, from a total workforce in the UK and Ireland of 2200.

“I needed to hit the ground running otherwise the long term impact of the dispute could have been devastating for the business and the remaining employees…”

 

The HR Director and many of the HR team also left, leaving a vacuum of experience and knowledge for handling the crisis. Gary Fisher, Director of GEFConsult and an experienced Interim HR professional, was contracted to fill the gap and take immediate control of the situation. He started working for Gate Gourmet in January 2006.

“My brief on arrival at Gate Gourmet was to help take the business forward and resolve the major issues that had arisen as a result of the dispute,” said Gary. “I needed to hit the ground running otherwise the long term impact of the dispute could have been devastating for the business and the remaining employees. I reported to Eric Born, Managing Director of UK and Ireland and Richard Wells, Vice President for HR in Europe and had immediate access to personnel throughout the company.”

“There were two urgent areas for me to address,” continued Gary. “The first was to rebuild the HR team with experienced specialist HR Professionals and formulate a clear and workable HR strategy that aligned with the overall business objectives. The second was to begin to build a new working relationship with the TGWU, both on a formal and informal basis. This meant putting together a new agreement with the Union which was acceptable throughout the company.”

The requirements for the new HR team were met initially by taking on interim managers who were specialists in their fields, and who could have an immediate impact on the business. These included industrial relations, internal communications, pension, learning and development specialists and a senior HR business partner. With these people in place and working as a co-ordinated team, Gary could focus on the recruitment of permanent long term employees to fill these roles.

All of these specialists worked together with the few remaining members of the old Gate Gourmet HR function to address the immediate needs of the business as well as create a long term HR strategy for the company.

This was achieved as a team effort, led by Gary, calling on the expertise of everyone in HR and included the creation of an HR Vision which contained the values and associated behaviours which would be expected of everyone working within the HR team.

In dealing with the TGWU, Gary and the HR team established a new recognition and procedural agreement and a strategy called “Partnership for Progress” that was accepted at both national and local level.

“There was some opposition internally at first,” commented Gary, “but over the course of nine months we managed to negotiate an agreement that was acceptable to all parties, and workable.”

Eric Born, Managing Director of UK and Ireland for Gate Gourmet commented: “Within nine months Gary had put the interim HR team in place, reached agreement with the Trade Union, put in place a company wide HR strategy and set up a new internal communications strategy and plan, which included staff councils and team briefings. He also gradually replaced the HR Interim Managers with full time employees within the stipulated twelve months time frame.”

“At all times Gary delivered what was required,” continued Eric. “He had a very good working relationship with me, acted as a mentor for senior management and kept calm in stressful times. He was both a team player and a team leader and was able to communicate effectively at all levels within the company. Above all he was flexible and pragmatic and guided us out of a crisis to allow the company to move forward in a stronger and healthier state.”