Margaret Greenwood MP fully supports bill which seeks to protect workers against dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions

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22 Oct 2021
Today, I had hoped to be able to speak during the Second Reading debate of Barry Gardiner’s Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Private Members’ Bill. 

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I and many other MPs were not able to make our speeches. 

It is an incredibly important issue.

Barry Gardiner’s bill seeks to protect workers against dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions.

A poll conducted by Survation on behalf of the GMB union in May of this year found that 76% of more than 1,000 people who were questioned supported this view – including 71% of Conservative voters who took part in the survey.

Yet today the Tories decided not to support the bill.

Fire and rehire is not new but it has gained prominence over the past 18 months or so because of high profile cases involving well known employers.

In June 2020, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee published a report criticising the use of such tactics by British Airways. The report said British Airways had been involved in ‘a calculated attempt to take advantage of the pandemic to cut jobs and weaken the terms and conditions of its remaining employees’. It went on to say that BA’s behaviour was ‘a national disgrace’.

This was a damning indictment, but the government played it down. Its response was that the actions of BA were ‘commercial decisions but they are decisions which, nevertheless, the government profoundly regrets.’

Workers at Heathrow Airport, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Clarks, Argos, Sainsbury’s and many more household brands have been targeted. More recently, just last month, engineers employed by Weetabix began strike action as a result of the company’s plans to carry out an extensive fire and rehire programme with the workforce. If workers accept the new terms, many will lose up to £5,000 a year in wages.

A report by ACAS which was published this summer pointed to ‘a shared anticipation that a further increase in use of the practice might be expected at such time as the government’s furlough and COVID-related business support initiatives are wound down, especially if the economic recovery is slow.’

The warning signs are clear. Unless legislation is brought forward, and unless there is clear, decisive action from the government, employers will continue to use fire and rehire tactics.

The government has tasked ACAS with strengthening guidance in this area – a task which is ongoing – but ministers should be doing more.

The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State said in April that ‘…it is completely unacceptable to use threats of fire and rehire simply as a negotiation tactic.’

The Secretary of State has repeatedly described it as unacceptable.

Just last month, the Under Secretary of State confirmed that the government ‘do not currently plan to legislate, but because of its obvious importance we are keeping the matter under review.’

Ministers are simply putting off taking action to stop employers using this unethical, exploitative and economically damaging tactic.

The government knows that certain employers are exploiting the covid-19 crisis to increase profits at the expense of loyal staff who have risked their lives during the pandemic to keep businesses going – and they are doing nothing about it other than offering hollow words.

A poll published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in January of this year revealed that nearly one in 10 workers have been told to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions since the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020. The poll also revealed that 18-24 year olds, working class people and black and minority ethnic workers are disproportionately affected.

Workers deserve respect and fair treatment.

This bill would protect workers from exploitation by unscrupulous employers, and it also gave an opportunity for MPs to show their support and solidarity with workers in their constituencies.

It is shameful that the Conservatives decided not to do this.

The disgraceful practice of fire and rehire must be ended.