UK unions boycott Lufthansa over strike sackings

In July 1999, as part of a long-running dispute over the dismissal of striking workers by airline catering company Skychefs, the UK's Trades Union Congress backed a union campaign to boycott the services of the German airline Lufthansa - Skychefs' parent company.

On 21 July 1999, the general council of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) pledged its support for a campaign organised by the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) to try to win reinstatement for 270 workers sacked in November 1998 by the Lufthansa-owned airline catering company Skychefs.

According to the TGWU, the Skychefs employees were dismissed for taking part in an official one-day strike which had been preceded by a ballot as required by UK law. The industrial action reportedly followed a breakdown in negotiations on flexible working practices. The union says that in April 1999 Lufthansa management was persuaded to "accept its moral responsibility to resolve the dispute" and instruct Skychefs' London-based management to open negotiations, but that, after months of delay, Skychefs' only offer was to invite the sacked strikers to apply for six vacancies. This was "firmly rejected" by the TGWU and talks broke down.

The TGWU has maintained a picket line at Skychefs' premises near Heathrow airport throughout the dispute and the sacked strikers are receiving dispute benefit from the union.

The TUC has urged all affiliated unions to give organisational and financial support to the sacked workers and their campaign. TUC general secretary John Monks said in a statement: "The TUC is behind the T&G 'Don't fly Lufthansa' campaign every step of the way. We urge business travellers and union members everywhere to fly with a conscience and back the campaign for justice at Skychefs."

Unions in the UK argue that the company's actions highlight the case for legislation to prevent the "arbitrary" dismissal of employees taking industrial action. The Employment Relations Bill, due shortly to complete its passage through parliament, includes a provision to enable employees dismissed for taking part in lawfully-organised official industrial action to take cases of unfair dismissal to an employment tribunal where the dismissal occurs within eight weeks of the start of the action, or at a later date if the employer has not taken reasonable procedural steps to resolve the dispute (UK9902180F).

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