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Thomas Cook staff fear for their homes as they head to Jobcentres

·Finance and policy reporter
Thomas Cook cabin crew Tina Lambert, Fiona Ackerman and Andrea Yates. Photo: Handout / Yahoo Finance UK
Thomas Cook cabin crew Tina Lambert, Fiona Ackerman and Andrea Yates. Photo: Handout / Yahoo Finance UK

The death of major tour operator Thomas Cook (TCG.L) has plunged the fates of thousands of people into jeopardy.

After the world’s oldest travel company dramatically collapsed on Monday, 22,000 jobs have been put at risk worldwide, with 9,000 in the UK.

Three days later, ex-cabin crew told Yahoo Finance UK that many staff were heading to Jobcentres, and were “on a mission” to find new jobs ahead of Christmas. Some even fear they could lose their homes, let alone pay for the costs of the festive season.

One said she felt “no-one cares” about the traumatic upheaval facing staff, with more attention focused on the passengers stranded or left out of pocket.

READ MORE: Hedge funds set to make millions from Thomas Cook’s collapse

Several shared their regret at never knowing they had made their final trips, and their anger at missing out on several weeks’ wages and redundancy pay while bosses’ pay and bonuses hit the headlines.

They hit out at the UK government for failing to step in, highlighting the enormous costs of the repatriation effort — which clocks in at £100m ($123.6m) and the German government’s decision to keep Thomas Cook subsidiary Condor afloat.

Dozens of staff are also reported to be planning legal action over the way they lost their jobs, which could boost the limited payouts they are entitled to claim from the government’s insolvency service.

Couple fear losing their home as both lose their jobs

Cabin crew member Fiona Ackerman with her husband and colleague Alastair and daughter Isla. Photo: Family handout / Yahoo Finance UK
Cabin crew member Fiona Ackerman with her husband and colleague Alastair and daughter Isla. Photo: Family handout/Yahoo Finance UK

Fiona Ackerman, 40, and her husband Alastair Newall, 45, both worked for Thomas Cook and both found themselves unemployed overnight.

The couple are worried they could struggle to pay their mortgage particularly if Alastair, a training captain, cannot find another job quickly at another airline.

They are planning to reduce everyday spending, and fear they could rack up significant debts if their unemployment drags on.

“We feel like we’ve lost everything. Everyone says you’ll get another job, but it was the best job in the world. It’s been taken away from me,” said Fiona.

“It’s an inconvenience for customers, but they’ll get their money back — it feels like no one cares what we’re going through. Our lives have been turned upside down.”

Fiona said she faced the “embarrassing” prospect of signing on to unemployment benefits, after being advised it may help her claim for redundancy pay and unpaid wages from the government’s insolvency service.

READ MORE: Helpline set up amid claims passengers and crew ‘held hostage’ in hotels over unpaid bills

She also said she had cried repeatedly since staying up in the early hours of Monday morning as Thomas Cook’s fate was balancing on a knife edge before it finally collapsed.

“My suitcase was by the door for work ready to go to Jamaica. We got conflicting messages through the night, so we clung on to the hope. I can’t believe the government didn’t help,” she said.

She said part-time cabin crew roles like hers at airlines were rarely advertised, and she expects she will have to leave the industry. “That’s it for me — I’ve well and truly hung up my wings.”

Bosses’ pay ‘absolutely disgusting’ as staff forced to wait five weeks for benefits

Former Thomas Cook employee Andrea Yates and her son. Photo: Andrea Yates / Yahoo Finance UK
Former Thomas Cook employee Andrea Yates and her son. Photo: Andrea Yates/Yahoo Finance UK

Andrea Yates said she had tried to stay upbeat since losing her cabin crew role, but walking round a jobs fair in Stockport on Tuesday had left her feeling “a bit down” about her options for work.

The 45-year-old said she had applied for the benefit Universal Credit to help tide her over, but said it was “ridiculous” she now faced a five-week wait for cash on top of several weeks’ unpaid wages.

As a single parent from Atherton in north-west England, she said she had managed to keep up her mortgage payments since separating from her husband a decade ago, but said any benefits would now not even cover the mortgage.

READ MORE: Strangers donate to help former Thomas Cook staff

She hopes to find a job in recruitment or marketing as soon as possible, but doubted it would compare to the “massive family” she felt part of in 20 years at the company.

She explained how Thomas Cook had once funded the funeral of a close friend of hers, and even repatriated the body, despite him not being an employee. It was a sign of “the kind of company it was,” she said.

But Andrea also hit out at the “absolutely disgusting” payments received by senior bosses in recent years, before adding: “But what am I going to do about it?”

‘Emotional rollercoaster’ as staff left with no income in the run-up to Christmas

Former Thomas Cook cabin manager Tina Scoffham. Photo: Handout / Yahoo Finance UK
Former Thomas Cook cabin manager Tina Scoffham. Photo: Handout/Yahoo Finance UK

“I’m just devastated — it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. I spent most of Monday in denial,” said former cabin manager Tina Scoffham.

The 48-year-old from Cannock, Staffordshire, said paying for Christmas was now a “massive worry” for her and many former colleagues.

She said a government jobs adviser told her they had received many calls from ex-staff seeking help finding work and accessing benefits.

“All I’m thinking is — Christmas is coming, I’ve got two small children and there’s a lot to buy when obviously you also have to keep a roof over your head,” she said.

She said she feared never getting her full redundancy pay and unpaid wages, saying an acquaintance at another collapsed airline was still waiting for hers years later.

“We’ve done almost a full month for free. But it was an amazing company, and I’ve loved every minute.”

Tina said she had struggled to sleep for the past week, anxiously following developments from a hotel room between shifts. She found out only a couple of hours before she was due to work on a Palma flight.

“We all thought we’d be saved in the final hour, as the airline’s the profitable part of the company,” she said, and suggested “exaggerated” media reports had worsened the firm’s position.

She said a £200m government bailout should have been a “no-brainer,” given the costs of repatriation and the number of taxpaying staff left unemployed.

But she said she was so moved by passengers’ praise for the firm on one of her final flights, she asked the whole plane to wish all her colleagues luck in a video that quickly went viral.

‘Even 10 minutes before it collapsed, I thought somebody would step in’

Katie Brown with her twin daughters. Photo: Handout / Yahoo Finance UK
Katie Brown with her twin daughters. Photo: Handout/Yahoo Finance UK

Katie Brown said she “just couldn’t stop crying” as she came to terms with having no job to return to from maternity leave next month.

She realised it was all over through a photo shared on social media of a notice stuck to a plane in Manchester, as she looked desperately for updates online in the early hours of Monday morning.

“I was absolutely devastated I’m never going to put on my uniform or fly with my colleagues again. Everybody said we’d be okay, we’re a 178-year-old company.”

The 40-year-old said the experience put her off the industry she had worked in since she was 21, explaining: “I just don’t want another company to go bust. Last week Thomas Cook said it was all noise and they had a plan — even 10 minutes before [it collapsed], I thought somebody would step in.”

She said on Tuesday afternoon: “Today I woke up angry about the bosses getting bonuses, and their wages. But I didn’t know one crew member who didn’t love it there.”

She said she had little idea what jobs she would look at, but described herself as “one of the lucky ones,” with at least her husband’s income to tide over the couple and their twin baby daughters.

READ MORE: Thomas Cook is dead and 150,000 people are stranded

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