Grahame Morris MP: Fire and Rehire is despicable and it must end

'Fire and rehire is often used by companies that have been in receipt of vast amounts of taxpayer money during the Covid-19 crisis.'

Unite the Union flag

Grahame Morris is Labour MP for Easington and is chair of the Unite the Union Parliamentary Group

According to TUC research, one-in-ten workers has been threatened with the pernicious practice of fire and rehire. Regrettably, it is only becoming more common.

Fire and rehire – the process where an employer dismisses an employee and offers to rehire to them on new, often poorer terms – is despicable but symptomatic of the dismal state of employment rights in our country.

To make matters worse, fire and rehire is often used by companies that have been in receipt of vast amounts of taxpayer money during the Covid-19 crisis.

As Chair of the Unite the Union Parliamentary Group, I have closely followed many of the fire and rehire disputes that the union has determinedly fought in defence of members’ pay, terms and conditions.

Unite have successfully negotiated several victories on behalf of their members. Just this week, a deal struck between the union and Go North West’s parent company Go Ahead Group brought an 85-day strike in Manchester to a close. The industrial action was the longest in the history of Unite and the longest in the recent history of the entire passenger transport sector.

Unite’s co-ordinated campaign to end fire and rehire excelled in the weeks preceding the Queen’s Speech on 11th May. An Early Day Motion calling for fire and rehire to be outlawed was signed by 75 MPs, and a letter to the Prime Minister imploring him to outlaw the practice was signed by over 140 Labour MPs and peers as well as 20 trade union general secretaries.

I was delighted to join Unite members, officials and Labour colleagues on an ‘end fire and rehire’ boat which sailed alongside the Houses of Parliament as the Queen delivered her Gracious Address. Unsurprisingly, it did not contain a commitment from the Government to outlaw fire and rehire. Neither did it contain any mention of the long-awaited Employment Bill.

As such, there are several Unite disputes ongoing, involving the likes of Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Goodlord and Heathrow Airport.

Fire and rehire is being wielded on a smaller scale too. The National Union of Journalists has recently condemned a move by Newsquest to terminate the contracts of journalists working at the Oxford Mail and The Oxford Times, with re-employment conditional on accepting poorer terms and conditions.

Termination notices – issued by Newsquest allegedly without adhering to its own disputes procedure laid out in the recognition agreement with the NUJ – were sent out after the union rejected a proposal to end ‘time-and-a-half’ pay for working on bank holidays (excluding Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day).

This is the pettiest example of attempted fire and rehire that I have come across to date. Newsquest’s own figures reveal that the ending of bank holiday working payments would save “under £200 per bank holiday”. To target workers for the sake of such negligible savings for the company is an insult.

Unions will always lead the charge in defence of working people – and in solidarity we will succeed. However, the reality is that the Government has it in its power the ability to prevent months of needless stress for workers who will fall victim to these unscrupulous employers.

In late January, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the House of Commons that the government had engaged the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) to conduct a review of fire and rehire. An answer to a written Parliamentary question that I submitted shortly afterwards revealed that the Government have now been sitting on the report since 17th February. Despite repeated requests from several MPs to release its contents, the government has yet to publish the ACAS report, even in a redacted form.  

What have they got to hide? What inconvenient truths does it contain?  

Ministers regularly state that they are against the practice of fire and rehire, with one Minister quite rightly branding it ‘bully-boy’ behaviour. The Prime Minister himself has deemed it ‘unacceptable’. With those on the Government benches unequivocally condemning this abusive behaviour, it is astonishing that it remains legal.

The Covid-19 crisis beckons change, but the Conservatives want a return to business as usual. With a united labour movement, however, we can instead hold them to their promise to ‘build back better’ – starting with an end to fire and rehire.

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