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Strike action as unions call for an end of ‘fire and rehire’ practices

Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Unite has arranged coordinated strikes and action across the country to end ‘bully boy’ fire and rehire tactics.

Workers, trade unionists and supporters around the country will come out on strike, arrange solidarity actions and leaflet workplaces, as pressure mounts on the government to take action against companies which try to force staff to accept worse pay and conditions in order to keep their job.

Coordinated strikes and other action is taking place at companies including Go North West, Goodlord and Fife Council.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) recently found that one in 10 workers had been threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic. Unions fear this number will grow dramatically as furlough ends unless the law is changed.

Unite is representing its members in a number of disputes with employers over their fire and rehire attacks on workers, including at Goodlord, Go North West, Brush Electronics, SAICA, Tesco and Jacobs Douwe Egberts. The union successfully supported workers to defeat fire and rehire at SPS Technologies.

One of the most high profile cases of fire and rehire has been at British Gas. Up to 400 engineers, supported by union GMB, were sacked earlier this month after refusing to sign new contracts.

Opposition to fire and rehire has surfaced within the government too under pressure from trade unions and opposition MPs.

Last month in the House of Commons, Paul Scully MP, parliamentary-under-secretary of state for business, said the government will tackle fire and rehire, which he condemned as ‘bully-boy tactics’. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, leader of the House of Commons, called fire and rehire threats ‘wrong’.

Unite says employment law in the UK is not fit for purpose and that fire and hire will continue without a law change as boardrooms have shown they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves.

Unite’s campaign demands that the government steps in, ends fire and rehire and makes the practice illegal, as it is in Ireland and Spain. The trade union has drafted legislation which it says is easy to implement and would see fire and rehire outlawed.

Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, said: “Millions of people all over the country are facing the sack if they don’t accept less pay and worse conditions. That’s thousands of pounds stolen out of the pockets of families and millions sucked out of communities.

“This wave of despicable fire and rehire tactics from bad bosses will only grow as furlough comes to an end. After months of pandemic hardship, this is no way to treat people.

“The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire. It’s already banned in Ireland and Spain and unacceptable in other competitor economies where governments step in to defend workers. Businesses have been supported in the pandemic. Workers should be treated fairly too.

“It has been workers who have seen our nations through this Covid crisis. Many have lost friends or family members to this terrible virus. And now they face a pandemic of greed. Bad employers are using the opportunity of crisis to fire and rehire workers on dramatically reduced terms and conditions. It can’t be allowed to happen. Workers cannot be made to pay for a crisis they have not caused. The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire with one stroke of a legislative pen.”

Andy McDonald, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for employment rights, said: “Boris Johnson and his ministers can’t continue to stick their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing story after story of bullying and abusive fire and rehire tactics. More and more companies – many that are making a healthy profit and have received financial support from the public during the pandemic – are treating their workers in this disgraceful way.

“I’m proud to stand with Unite and the whole labour movement in supporting workers, their families and communities as we rebuild out of the pandemic. The government can and must act now by bringing forward legislation to end fire and rehire once and for all.”