Managers at struggling airline caterer Gate Gourmet have controversially sacked 500 Heathrow airport workers for going on unofficial strike yesterday.
About 350 workers walked out after hearing their employer had hired 130 seasonal workers to help in the kitchens during the peak summer period.
However, the Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G), which represents the Heathrow employees, said the move was particularly provocative as permanent workers had faced the threat of redundancy for the past few months.
In the resulting chaos, 40 long-haul British Airways flights were forced to fly without in-flight meals for customers yesterday.
About 150 staff turning up for the afternoon shift were also sacked in the confusion when they failed to hear an ultimatum to report to work issued by a Gate Gourmet manager.
T&G national secretary for civil aviation Brendan Gold said the workers "feel betrayed by their own company".
The move is the latest escalation in Gate Gourmet's long-running and increasingly acrimonious battle to restructure its operations to help stave off bankruptcy.
In June the company tried to drive through a package of wage and benefit cuts for its 22,000 employees in the US and Europe but it was rejected.
Complimentary in-flight meals have been axed by many airlines over recent years as they wrestle with soaring fuel prices, hurting Gate Gourmet which missed debt repayments in December 2004.
Wages make up around half of the caterer's operating costs and management at the firm maintain that the future of the company will only be assured if staffing levels are significantly reduced.
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