Lisa Nandy MP: We need to ban 'fire and rehire'

Lisa Nandy is the Labour MP for Wigan.

Friday, 9th July 2021, 2:34 pm
Lisa Nandy MP

Warehouse employees at Clarks Shoes have this month become the latest in a long line of workers across the UK to consider taking strike action because of threats to “fire and rehire” them on worse terms.

Reports suggest the workers affected are being asked to accept a new contract which would reduce pay by around 15%, cut their holidays by three days, provide them with worse sickness terms, and eliminate the 10-minute breaks they are currently entitled to.

Worryingly, the “fire and rehire” practice seems to have become more common during the pandemic.

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The Trades Union Congress has found that nearly one in 10 workers – almost three million people - have been told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions since March 2020.

With the end of the furlough scheme due in September it is predicted that “fire and rehire” tactics are only set to increase.

Many of those affected are the very key workers – the shop workers, energy workers, bus drivers, food producers – that kept this country going during the pandemic.

This is the thanks they get for their tireless work.

The impact of the pandemic has meant that many businesses have faced increasingly difficult times, and many have not received the support they needed to survive from the Government forcing them to look for ways to make savings.

However, a recent report from the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS, the independent body which seeks to improve workplace relationships) warned that there was a view that some employers had been using the crisis caused by the virus opportunistically as a “smokescreen” to diminish workers’ terms and conditions. Some of the biggest names in British industry have been accused of using “fire and rehire” tactics in recent months including British Airways, Centrica/British Gas Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Argos, Weetabix and Jacobs Douwe Egberts. These are not all struggling firms that will go out of business if they do not cut their wages budget. In fact, there have been reports that 70% of companies alleged to be using such tactics are making a healthy profit, with some even increasing executive pay at the same time as attempting to raid the pay packets of their workers.

Unions such as Unite have highlighted and fought against numerous instances of “fire and rehire”. In some circumstances such as with the case of drivers at Go North West Buses in Manchester and staff at British Airways, employees have fought successfully to secure deals that forced employers to abandon “fire and rehire” plans. But in other cases, companies have ploughed ahead with the tactic.

One such example was when Centrica/British Gas acted on its threats in April and fired around 500 employees who refused to sign up to a new contract with worse conditions.

It was heart-breaking to hear the impact that this approach had on the British Gas engineers from Wigan who contacted me in the run up to the deadline for signing the new contract. Some had worked for the company for over 50 years and had put their own health at risk during the pandemic by going into people’s homes to keep people safe and warm. They had faced significant emotional stress during the dispute and were facing a bleak future in the current employment market.

Yet they would not back down because they knew what was happening to them and their colleagues just was not right. “Fire and rehire” is wrong and should be outlawed. Using the threat of unemployment to reduce pay and diminish terms and conditions is against British values, undermines good employers, harms working people and damages our economy. This is a view shared by most of the public, with a recent poll from the GMB union finding that 76% of those asked felt “fire and rehire” should be against the law. Earlier this year, I voted in Parliament for the Government to set out a timetable for banning “fire and rehire”. Unfortunately, despite admitting the practice is “unacceptable” and “immoral”, the Government did not support this call ordering their MPs to stay away from the vote.

I believe the Government’s lack of action has allowed “fire and rehire” to become widespread and it is set to get worse. We need urgent legislation to ban this unethical and exploitative tactic, not empty words, and further delay.

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