Fire & rehire must not be allowed to continue

Read Kate’s latest article for Labour Outlook

Many workers have lost friends, colleagues, and family members to covid-19, and now at least one in 10 of them face a further pandemic of opportunistic employers using fire & rehire to dramatically reduce workers’ pay and terms and conditions.

Fire and rehire is a process that involves sacking workers and hiring them back on lower wages and worse terms and conditions—a practice that, according to research published earlier this year by the TUC, has had a disproportionate impact on black, Asian, and ethnic minority workers, young workers, and working-class people.

However, fire and rehire is not new. In 2009, the Confederation of British Industry boasted of using the financial crash to establish a so-called flexiforce, in effect using economic uncertainty as a cover to replace permanent workers with flexible workers. Big business is shifting power even further away from workers so that they can boost long-term profits for shareholders. These are some of the same companies that have made use of public money through the Government’s job retention scheme.

Fire and rehire must not be allowed to continue. Workers should not be forced to choose between losing pay or losing their jobs. It is a national emergency and disgrace that one in 10 workers are currently threatened with a practice that, in the words of the Prime Minister, is “unacceptable” and one Tory Minister termed the practice as “bully boy tactics.” Let be honest though, I am not entirely convinced that the Prime Minister knows what fire and rehire is or what it is doing to thousands of workers across the UK.

Despite making more profit than in the previous year, British Gas has used the pandemic as a cover to impose a “take it or leave it” 15% pay cut and other changes that have affected the time their workforce spends with their families, by making the working week three hours longer. That is a whole month of additional labour added to the year.

What has happened to loyal workers at British Gas is an absolute scandal. It shows utter contempt for the loyalty many have shown for much of their working lives. British Gas, Centrica and their chief executive officer Chris O’Shea should be ashamed of this reckless corporate bullying. It is sad to see what has happened to British Gas, once a nationally respected institution but now a poster boy for the virus of poor employment practice that is spreading like another contagious deadly disease across the UK.

We have heard a lot from this Tory Government about levelling up and how Brexit will give us the opportunity to have higher standards across the board. Now this Tory Government have a chance to prove that they are serious about that. They must understand that well-paid, secure work is good for the economy, and greater security for workers would mean a stronger and quicker recovery. Our friends across Europe understand this. The practice of fire and rehire is already banned in Ireland, Spain and France, and is seen as unacceptable in other competitor economies, where Government’s step in to defend their workers.

Earlier this year, the Government moved quickly to rightly stop the European Super League in its tracks. It showed that they can make things happen when they want to—and feel that they will get a popularity bounce off the back of it.

In Parliament we have worked with Unite and other trade unions to consistently raise this issue. Earlier this year I led a Westminster Hall debate on the issue and the Minister came back and said that fire and rehire suited the nature of the British Job Market, this is despite him previously describing the practice as ‘bully boy tactics.

Despite this, the Government have broadly made all the right noises about fire and rehire but have done absolutely nothing about it. This week in Parliament they have an opportunity to support Labour MP, Barry Gardiner’s, Private Member’s Bill that will end fire and rehire but unfortunately, I fear this will not be the case.

We will finally see where the government stand on this but in the meantime, I encourage everyone reading this to put pressure and lobby your own MPs, especially if they’re a Conservative, to get them to support Barry’s bill. Together we can all play our part in ending this shameful practice.