Labour MPs, including Angela Rayner, Jeremy Corbyn, Andy McDonald, Zarah Sultana, Grahame Morris and dozens more, flocked to a campaign event outside Parliament on Wednesday (June 16) in a strong showing of support for Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s private members bill which, if successful, will end ‘fire and rehire’ for good.
Dubbed ‘Barry’s Bill’, it was presented for the first time in Parliament as a Private Members Bill on Wednesday, having come second in the ballot of backbenchers to have the chance to create new legislation.
‘Fire and rehire’ – where employers force their existing, often long-serving workforce onto new contracts with vastly inferior pay and conditions – has spread throughout the UK amid the pandemic like wildfire.
As Unite members fight the pernicious practice in their workplaces – most recently at the Jacobs Douwe Egberts (JDE) coffee factory in Banbury, Weetabix factories in Northamptonshire, and at Goodlord lettings firm in London – Unite has also spearheaded a campaign to ensure the practice is consigned to the history books.
And now that campaign is one step closer to success with Barry’s Bill, which Unite has endorsed.
Barry Gardiner (pictured below) himself told UniteLive why this Bill was so important.
“The Bill would stop fire and rehire – it’s that simple,” he said. “It’s wrong that workers are being told you’re out, you’re fired, and you can only get your job back if you’ll except lower wages, lower terms and conditions, less holiday pension and a poorer pension. It’s not right and it should not be happening in Britain today.”
He noted that the majority of businesses attempting to fire and rehire their workforces are large, profitable companies – from British Airways to Sainsbury’s to JDE and more – who are doing it ‘simply out of greed’.
“That’s why we need legislation to stop it,” he explained, adding that while many Tory MPs themselves have said the practice was wrong, the government now needed to follow through and take action.
Gardiner told UniteLive of the many families he’s spoken to across the country who have been impacted by fire and rehire, and how their stories have inspired him to take a stand.
“When a mum says to me, ‘My family – me, my husband, my dad and my son – have together given over a 150 years of our lives in loyal service to the same company and now they’re treating us with absolute contempt’, that’s not the sort of Britain I want to live in,” he said. “I want to live in a country where we’re proud to have the best workforces in the best workplaces in the world. That’s what we need to create.”
Unite member and striking Goodlord worker Athena Parnell (pictured below) was among those workers who’ve experienced fire and rehire who is now speaking out telling her story.
Addressing the Labour MPs who attended Wednesday’s event, Athena explained how her wages plummeted from £24,000 to £18,000 a year after her employer fire and rehired her and her colleagues.
“[My new wage] was below the London Living Wage – below the wage that would have allowed me to pay for my rent and my basic necessities living in London,” she explained.
“Fire and rehire is sweeping through our nations right now,” Athena warned. “Companies who did quite well last year are jumping on the opportunity of exploitation. We’ve just been through a pandemic and millions of people are going back to jobs with worse pay and conditions than before. I was one of the people they tried to exploit; one of the casualties whose hard work and experience didn’t matter.
“This is why I support the fight to make fire and rehire illegal. We need to stand up against this behavior,” she continued. “If you’re in the same situation as me don’t give in. The only way we’re going to have a better life is if we fight together. Join a union – they are tremendous help. You won’t only be supported by your colleagues but all of us union members will have your back.”
Unite senior shop steward at Airbus Broughton Kyle Robinson (pictured below, right) is precisely one of the many members in Unite’s union family who Athena spoke of. Although he himself has not been the victim of fire and rehire, he traveled to Wednesday’s Stop Fire and Rehire event in solidarity with those who are.
He told UniteLive, “No matter who we are, all Unite members should be concerned about fire and rehire because if this isn’t outlawed, then what’s to stop other profit-making companies from coming in and doing this to the rest of us? If you’re not a member of a union, make sure you join and you’ll get the full backing of Unite.”
Labour MP and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (pictured below), who also attended Wednesday’s event, likewise urged everyone to join a union.
“If you’re not in a union, and you’re faced with fire and rehire, join a union,” he told UniteLive. “It’s the most valuable, useful thing you’ll ever do – because it will guarantee not just your future but your children’s future. Be strong; stand together – you are not alone.”
Corbyn went on to highlight just how damaging fire and rehire is and why it must be banned.
“People who have worked thirty or forty years in the same job, highly skilled people working in their communities, to be suddenly told you’re not needed anymore, but we’ll bring you back on worse pay and conditions – it’s disgusting,” he said. “Executives aren’t being fired and rehired – they’re being rewarded.”
As Wednesday’s event drew to a close, Gardiner urged people who have been affected by fire and rehire to join the wider campaign to ban the practice. He explained why their support and contribution was so vital.
“We need you and your families, friends and communities to get on to your MPs – particularly if they’re Tory MPs – and make the case against fire and rehire,” he told UniteLive in a message to Unite members. “Tell them what it means to you personally. Write about your experience. As an MP I know that’s what matters to me. If I get a letter like that in my inbox, that really cuts through.
“We need Tory MPs to turn round to the government – just like they did with free school meals – and say, ‘This is wrong, and I’m getting so much flak over this from my constituents, I want you the government to do something.’ If we get Tory MPs on side, then we win. But we’re only going to win by working people coming together, writing those letters and putting the pressure on.”
You can find out more about Barry’s Bill here. And you can find out more about Unite’s campaign to End Fire and Rehire, and how you can involved, here.
By Hajera Blagg
Pics by Mark Thomas