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Thomas Cook staff speak out

2 July 2012

In April Thomas Cook announced that as well as a 0 per cent pay award, they were going to slash the longstanding concessions on travel available to staff. With many workers on low wages, concessionary travel was a major benefit allowing staff to book family holidays at preferential discounted rates. Everyone knows that Thomas Cook are facing a tough time, with the recession and the governmentÂ’s damaging austerity programme meaning people are spending less on their holidays. But for many staff, the nil pay award and the withdrawal of concessionary travel is plain insulting.

thomas-cook-shop

Why is concessionary travel so important? Well, for many staff – especially those with young families – the ability to book a family holiday at reduced rates meant that staying with Thomas Cook makes up for the otherwise low pay. For others, particularly younger workers, the ability to travel – and then to share the knowledge and experience with customers – makes the job significantly more exciting and rewarding. Being able to discuss different types of holidays with customers on the basis of personal experiences is exactly the sort of staff development opportunity that Thomas Cook should be seeking out as it attempts to differentiate itself from the experience offered by online travel sites. TSSA members in Thomas Cook are not lying down. They are determined to generate enough pressure to reinstate the benefits that have been withdrawn – or at the very least gain alternative benefits of similar value.

Over 400 shop staff – some of them not previously TSSA members – have signed up to a petition seeking the reinstatement of the concessions and an agreement for pay talks. After pressure from the TSSA, the company has now agreed to talks in which TSSA are seeking restoration of the concessions, an equivalent package, or at the very least an agreement that the suspension of the concessions will be time-limited during the company’s current financial difficulties and will be reinstated afterwards. If you are a TSSA member at Thomas Cook, please help us by spreading the word on this campaign and making sure Management understand how widely and deeply felt concern is over this issue.

‘I am disgusted. After working in the travel industry for 18 years, 11 of them for Cooks I would now actually earn more stacking shelves in a supermarket. I always accepted the low pay as our discounts made up my wages. Are the big bosses stopping all their bonus payments? Cooks are giving us no incentive to be loyal to them when we are being treated so poorly.’

'I have worked for Thomas Cook for over 23 years. Having travel perks taken away would greatly affect me as a lone parent of three children. The 48 hour concession cannot be taken at peak times, so is of no use to families who need to use it during school holidays.’

‘I have been with Thomas Cook for the past 18 years. It’s the loyal staff who have consistently performed only for them now to be penalised. My salary is less today than it was three years ago as they have cut our incentives as well. They have frozen our pay increase, taken away our shift concessions and reduced our incentives by 50 per cent. I am disgusted at the way we are being treated.’

Hands off our concessions

The TSSA will be holding regional meetings and campaign forums where members of staff can discuss how we take the campaign forward. Your reps would like to involve as many people as possible – including non-members – so do get the message out there that everyone in Thomas Cook is welcome. We aim to visit as may areas of the business as possible, showing how members right across the firm are appalled at Thomas Cook’s proposals. We will initially be visiting Thomas Cook shops in London and Scotland in June and July and then working our way around the rest of the UK over the coming months. We’d like all members wanting to get involved or who are interested in TSSA visiting your area to get in touch with your regional organiser or rep – and if there’s no rep in your area, then why not become one? Full training and support can be provided. This is a key time for us all to unite and support each other – so please do get involved. We would also like to say a big thank you to all who have signed the petition and commented so far. We don’t need to knock Thomas Cook through the media – the truth is, they are doing a good job of that themselves. All we need to do is send the message to Thomas Cook management that this issue will not be going away.

A Living Wage campaign for the travel trade

The TSSA demands a halt to poverty pay in the travel trade. As the recession bites, staff in the travel trade are facing cut backs, and pressure on their terms and conditions. On top of this, because people are changing the way they buy holidays, the system of commission is increasingly failing to reward front line staff. When the commission system was introduced, nearly everyone walked into a shop and were sold a holiday which they bought there and then. But today, lots of people will visit a shop, collect all the information, ask lots of questions from experienced staff, then reach a final decision and book from home. If they book online no-one gets commission, if they book on the phone, the tele-worker gets it, and the shop worker gets nothing. Of course this would not matter too much if shop workers in the travel trade were not forced to rely on commission to make ends meet. However, for large numbers of people in the travel trade, their basic pay is either the legal minimum wage or slightly above. This is where the campaign for a ‘living wage’ is so important.

What is the Living Wage?

The Living Wage is an hourly rate calculated according to the basic cost of living, set independently and updated annually. It is the wage you would need to earn to live above poverty line assuming that you work 40 hours per week. In London the rate of £8.30 an hour is calculated by the Greater London Authority. The national rate is £7.20 per hour and is calculated by the Centre for Research in Social Policy. This contrasts with the National Minimum Wage, which is currently a mere £6.08. The Living Wage enjoys cross party support, with public backing from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. Even Boris Johnson, not someone we normally quote positively in the Journal has said: ‘Paying the London Living Wage is not only morally right but it also makes good business sense ... paying decent wages reduces staff turnover and produces a more motivated and productive workforce’. Shockingly, almost 40 per cent of part time workers in London earn less than the Living Wage. This means that their families risk living in poverty, with government benefits subsidising employers’ profits – allowing them to pay low wages rather than cover the basic life costs of their employees.

Good for business

In London more than 80 per cent of employers who had implemented a Living Wage agreement believe that the Living Wage had enhanced the quality of the work of their staff, while absenteeism had fallen by approximately 25 per cent. Two thirds of employers reported a significant impact on recruitment and retention within their organisation.

Winning the Living Wage for the travel trade

While trade unions have been instrumental in winning Living Wage agreements, they have not done so on their own. Those people on low wages are not there by accident, they are there because they lack the ‘economic muscle’ to force their employer to pay more. Often employers fear that paying a Living Wage will undercut their competitiveness. That is why campaigns have sought to cover a whole sector (such as cleaning contractors) and have mobilised leverage from outside the workplace. Over the coming months we will be working with our members and their communities to build Living Wage coalitions designed to create the necessary leverage to win a Living Wage aicross the travel trade sector. 7 If you want to be part of this initiative, then sign up at www.tssa.org.uk/livingwagesurvey.

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