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LSG Sky Chefs workers strike for improved wages and conditions

Posted to the IUF website 06-Oct-2004

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Catering workers take industrial action at airports in Spain, France and New Zealand

Lufthansa airlines' subsidiary LSG Sky Chefs is the world's largest airline caterer. LSG Sky chefs has recently been the target of industrial action in countries around the world as workers and their unions struggle against attempts by this company to lower standards, weaken collective agreements, eliminate hard-won gains, retrench workers and casualize employment.

The attack on workers' rights and on professional and social standards is the company's impulsive response to pressure from the major airlines in the wake of the post-September 11 downturn in air travel and competition from low-cost, low-service airlines. Union negotiating committees are confronting inflexible, unbending and unimaginative company bargaining positions in their efforts to defend workers' interests and seek solutions for protecting employment and ensuring the viability of catering operations.

Catering workers are already badly underpaid compared to workers in other occupations and industries. When HRF in Sweden decided to improve this situation in the 2004 collective bargaining round, it ran up against a company that refused to budge, refusing any increase in salary and in premiums for night and holiday work, and demanding lower salary levels for young workers. It took a strike threat and imposed mediation for the workers to win a new collective agreement with a fair wage increase.

24-Hour Strikes in Spain

LSG Sky Chefs workers at Son Sant Joan Airport in Palma de Mallorca walked off the job for 24 hours on 3 successive Friday nights - September 10, 17 and 24. The works committee, made up of members of FECOHT-CC.OO and FECHTJ-UGT, called for industrial action in light of the company's unwillingness to negotiate the renewal of the agreement which expired on February 28, 2004.

Following a failed mediation meeting on September 9, the first of the 3 announced strikes went ahead on September 10. This was followed by further failed attempts to engage the company in serious negotiations and the 2 successive strikes. Besides responding negatively to the proposal that salaries increase by 2.8% while all other economic provisions remain unchanged, the company is attempting to impose flexible working hours - which the works committee negotiators consider unnecessary and unacceptable - without offering anything in return. LSG Sky Chefs workers in Palma de Mallorca participated massively in the 3 strikes and received the support of fellow airport workers.

Controversy in Paris

LSG Sky Chefs workers at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris took strike action on Tuesday, September 21, in protest against arbitrary disciplinary procedures and company attempts to impose "a social plan in disguise" by dismissing workers for minor infractions. The industrial dispute in 2001-2002 saw a massive mobilization of workers against a major retrenchment exercise and attempts to remove hard-won collective bargaining gains. The company responded by locking-out some 900 workers, employing armed guards to intimidate picketers and illegally firing demonstrating workers for alleged gross misconduct. Despite the replacement of the management team (towards the end of the 2002 conflict), industrial relations at LSG Sky Chefs in France remain tense.

Rolling strikes in New Zealand

LSG Sky Chefs workers organised by the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) and the Engineers, Printers and Manufacturers Union (EMPU) in New Zealand began a week of rolling strike action on October 1, when 200 workers walked off the job in Auckland and Christchurch for 2 hours. Auckland strikers joined a picket set up at the LSG Sky Chefs production site near the airport. Workers in Wellington are observing a ban on overtime. Subsequent work stoppages are scheduled on October 3, 6 and 8.

As in Sweden and Spain, LSG Sky Chefs refuses to bargain seriously over the workers' demands, which in this case include a salary increase and payment of all overtime at time and a half. SFWU and EMPU notified LSG Sky Chefs on September 15 that their members had voted to go on strike. A mediation meeting on September 30 failed to produce a settlement and over 400 union members are now engaged in industrial action.