Unite delegate Philippa Marsden spoke out eloquently against fire and rehire as she moved a composite at Labour conference on Monday (September 27), which calls for the practice to be banned and workers’ rights strengthened.
“I want to start by being clear about what ‘fire and rehire’ really is — it is an act of blackmail by employers,” she said, adding that it threatens workers with what can be catastrophic losses of pay, pension reductions or working much longer hours – or can mean losing your job entirely.
“It’s wrong at any time,” Philippa noted, but said that “at a time of global pandemic it is particularly cold-hearted”.
“And yet, just as with other forms of attack and insecure work that have gone before we are seeing it spread from workplace to workplace, industry to industry,” she continued. “Unite will face down these attacks in the workplace wherever, and whenever they are tried. And we will use leverage tactics if necessary to do so.
“We did this at British Airways and got the company to the negotiating table,” Philippa continued. “At Go North West, bus drivers stood firm while we took the dispute to Go-Aheads key decision makers in Scandinavia and the company backed down.
“At Weetabix, our members are in the middle of industrial action against a fire and rehire wage grab and we will do all it takes to stop this there too,” she vowed.
Philippa went on to say that fire and rehire should not be legal in the first place and emphasised that it is not a standalone issue.
“It is part of a far bigger attack on working rights, pay and job security and the targeting of frontline reps and shop stewards that has always been the agenda of the Conservatives,” she said. “And people understand these attacks are taking place. Nearly seven in 10 people support trade unions taking action to push back against employer abuses.”
Philippa urged Labour to back working people and stand up against Tory attacks on workers’ rights.
“In the coming weeks, months and years, families, working people and local communities across the country will not forget who stands and fights alongside them and who does not,” she said. “We need to make these policies live and feel real to people.
“As a labour movement, as trade union activists, CLP activists, councilors, Mayors, MPs – as a Labour party – we need to support, without question, working people facing this threat, and those taking action to organize and win decent jobs, higher pay and better conditions for all,” Philippa added.
“The power imbalance between workers and employers must change and we need to organize in our workplaces, local communities and wherever we are active to make it happen.”
The motion moved by Unite won overwhelming support, which Unite general secretary Sharon Graham welcomed.
Commenting, Graham said, “It is a step forward that the Labour Conference has moved to condemn the scourge of fire and rehire. Unite will continue to take action at the workplace to defeat the employers using this practice. It is a brutal assault on wages and conditions. We can win on fire and rehire, and win more often, if we fully commit to focusing on building union strength and organisation at the workplace.”
By Hajera Blagg
Pic by Mark Thomas