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Thomas Cook: resisting death by 1,000 cuts

29 April 2013

Tony Wheeler writes: A sentence of ‘death by 1,000 cuts’ was formerly a very unpleasant fate which originated in Imperial China as a slow form of execution before being banned in 1905. More than a century later it seems that Thomas Cook are intent on reintroducing this form of torture for their beleaguered employees.

Since taking responsibility for TSSA’s dealings with Thomas Cook in January 2011, I have never had the opportunity to discuss progressive changes for staff, although I am close to attaining my diploma in regressive contracts and shop closures.

A succession of corporate failures, many of them linked to previous CEO Manny Fontenla-Novoa’s misdirection of the firm, saw Thomas Cook’s share price fall to an all time low of 11 pence, creating a series of knock-on financial problems.

New chief executive Harriet Green, who incidentally is expected to receive two payments totalling around half a million pounds this year, has at least had the foresight to realise that if the way that Cook’s conduct business does not change, then the company will be a thing of the past. That said, I rather doubt I’d be paid half a million pounds simply for doing what I am contracted to do.

Nevertheless they have now taken the business decision to expand online, aspiring to become the leading online tour operator with a digital platform that will host a full portfolio of digital products and services.

What does this mean for the staff in Thomas Cook retail stores? Well you tell me. Despite repeatedly pressing company representatives, I usually receive a response that goes something along the line of ‘We can give no assurances about the future’.

As members in Thomas Cook are seeing their terms and conditions eroded to help cover the cost of the debt the business has taken on, I wonder to myself what the future holds. Further erosion of terms and conditions? Possible. Pay awards? Unlikely. So what will be the reward for high street staff for their part in helping the business turn around? We’ll be pushing hard, but on the company’s current plans, the bottom line is likely to be nothing.

Thomas Cook members must stick together. Members did not create this mess. If they are guilty of anything, it is working harder for less money under the auspices of worsening contracts and difficult performance targets designed to reward only the minority with the opportunity to achieve extraordinary results.

It is terrible that it’s not possible to give any great hope for the future, but members can rest assured that their trade union reps and the full-time staff are doing their best to make this as painless as possible. Sadly, we have to work on the basis that no position within Thomas Cook is entirely safe at this point in time.

On a final note, the real problem with death by 1,000 cuts is that you inevitably need a whole load of plasters to try to patch up the damage. Regrettably it is the Thomas Cook staff who will pay for the plasters and much more.

The TSSA’s voice is only as strong as its members. We have over 1,000 members in the firm today. If we were to double that figure, we’d have a stronger platform from which to protect members and defend against the assault on employees. Hand this article around the office and get your colleagues to join the TSSA online at www.tssa.org.uk/join.

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