By Michael Clarke

THOMAS Cook has asked 400 Signature call centre staff
to consider taking unpaid leave or work part-time following a slump in

The long-haul brand has seen sales stumble due to the
war in Iraq, SARS and terrorist attacks over the past year.

Staff at the Peterborough call centre
have been given the option of unpaid leave, flexible working, transferring to another
department or banking hours – working fewer hours for the same pay and making
up the difference at a later date.

Thomas Cook Signature managing director Joanna Edmunds
said: “Given the past few weeks with the Gulf War and SARS, we felt it prudent
to offer staff this opportunity while it’s quiet. We have a large programme to
Toronto and China, so that has obviously been affected.”

Edmunds said only a small number of staff have taken
up the offer.

Meanwhile, Thomas Cook AG has
said 700 jobs are likely to go this year through natural wastage. Although the
group’s German head office insisted there will be no more redundancies, it said
only “business essential” personnel will be replaced in a bid to reduce costs
beyond the £173 million already targeted.