Straits Herald September 29, 2019

by Jean-Baptiste OUBRIER / AFP

“Most of us in Peterborough know somebody who works for Thomas Cook,” said Phil Dobbs, a human resources manager who works in the city, home to the collapsed travel firm.

Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, eastern England, has rushed this week to help the 1,000 staff who lost their jobs early Monday when Thomas Cook filed for bankruptcy.

“Thomas Cook has been in the city for forty years and it is a blow to lose so many jobs,” said John Holdich, the Conservative leader of Peterborough City Council.

“They have been losing jobs over the years as they have modernised but 1,000 jobs in one go is a blow to the city and it’s got a human cost,” he told AFP in an interview.

“It’s not just 1,000 jobs to Thomas Cook — it’s all those to supporting Thomas Cook in terms of people that repair their computers and clean the offices and so on.”

The shock failure of the travel giant, which was plagued by huge debts, sent shockwaves across Britain and the world — leaving 600,000 passengers of various nationalities stranded abroad and 22,000 staff worldwide without a job.

“It’s a real blow for the economy. It probably doubled the number of job seekers” in the city, added Dobbs.

‘Gutted’

In Peterborough, whose centre is dominated by the imposing 12th-century gothic cathedral, local authorities and businesses are racing to help Thomas Cook’s former employees.

Stuck to a window at one of the city’s Thomas Cook outlets, a sheet of paper — alongside advertisements for sunny travel destinations — informs customers of its closure.

“I’m really gutted for all the people that are stranded and all the people that have lost their jobs,” Tammy Beckwith, 31, told AFP.

“All of a sudden everyone’s affected. It’s upsetting. I just feel for them all.”

Kelly Swingler, 39, founder of local HR agency Chrysalis Crew, told AFP she spotted a Facebook jobs appeal by redundant workers on Monday — and sprang into action to offer help finding alternative work.

“We are offering Thomas Cook employees CV reviews, interview support, some career advice and basically to give them somebody to offer them a listening ear and get them through this difficult time,” Swingler said.

“Thomas Cook have always been one of the largest employers locally and I’ve had lots of friends and family that have worked there since the head office moved to Peterborough back in the 1970s.”

Elsewhere in the city, businesses have lined up to offer free assistance to beleaguered workers, many of whom have been with Thomas Cook for decades.

“I’m very, very proud of our city, the way they’ve come together,” said Holdich.

“Free haircuts, free taxi rides, free bus rides.. you name it, whether it’s firms or individuals, they’ve really come behind this and supported those that have lost their jobs.”

Local football club Peterborough United has meanwhile offered redundant workers free tickets for their home game on Saturday against AFC Wimbledon.

Thomas Cook formerly sponsored the club, which plays in English football’s third tier and is managed by Darren Ferguson, son of former Manchester United legendary boss Sir Alex.

‘Writing on the wall’

Around 9,000 Thomas Cook workers have lost their jobs in Britain, although some have been retained by liquidators to help oversee the winding-down of the business.

Authorities in Peterborough, which lies approximately 100 kilometres north of London and has a population of 200,000, are holding a jobs fair on Wednesday to help find new positions for those affected.

Britain’s once world-renowned travel operator collapsed after it failed to raise sufficient funds, buckling under high costs and soaring debt after a series of mis-timed mergers. 

The chaotic collapse forced the government to embark upon the nation’s biggest repatriation effort since the second world war, to fly home about 150,000 Britons. Since Monday, some 61,000 people have been flown back.

The company also blamed Brexit uncertainty for a drop in recent bookings.

“The writing’s been on the wall for a while,” added Holdich, but cautioned over the impact of Britain’s looming exit from the European Union next month.

“I honestly believe that we blame Brexit for every ill that we have got.

“It’s a change in the way people book their holidays and actually do it themselves. The whole industry has changed.” – AFP

jbo-rfj/bcp/jh