'We can win on fire and rehire'

Unite ramps up campaign to fight fire and rehire with national day of action

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Unite members across the country took part in a national day of action to shine the spotlight on ‘fire and rehire’, a growing practice where businesses force their workers onto new contracts with substantially reduced wages and terms and conditions.

In addition to fighting fire and rehire industrially in their workplaces – such as in the ongoing Weetabix dispute where Unite members will soon go on strike – Unite members are also lobbying for the practice to be banned altogether.

On Wednesday (September 15) Unite members joined Labour MPs for a banner drop on Westminster Bridge near Houses of Parliament to publicise the union’s efforts to fight fire and rehire.

Unite is supporting Labour MP Barry Gardiner’s Private Members Bill to challenge fire and rehire and is calling on MPs of all parties to back it. The Bill is due its second reading on October 22 under the title of Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill.

UniteLive spoke to Barry Gardiner, who said he and fellow Labour MPs were working to raise awareness of fire and rehire ahead of the second reading of the Bill.

“I think many people don’t understand that you can go into work one day, you can be told that you’re fired, then be told by your employer ‘don’t worry, you can sign a new contract – it will take £10,000 off your wages, it may change your shift pattern and it may actually take your pension rights – but at least you’ll still have a job,” he said. “Many of us believe this is wrong and that’s why we want to change it and that’s what my private members bill will do.”

Gardiner highlighted that even many Tory MPs are against fire and rehire, and noted that both the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and chancellor Rishi Sunak have expressed strong disapproval of the practice.

“We’re trying to hold them to their word, saying that we all agree [that fire and rehire is wrong] and let’s do something about it,” he told UniteLive. “Let’s not just talk about it, let’s not just issue guidelines. Because no business that’s doing this – who’s taking £10,000 off people’s wages – thinks what they’re doing is morally right. They know it’s not. That’s why we need legislation in order to prevent it.”

Gardiner hailed the work of trade unions, who he said were united in their opposition to fire and rehire and were, like Unite, successfully supporting members to fight the practice in their workplaces. He added that trade unions were never more necessary than now.

“We’re living through a time of incredible uncertainty at the moment,” he said. “Insecure employment is one of the worst things that people are facing right now and of course one of the main ways that’s being manifested is through fire and rehire.

“The irony of this all is that fire and rehire will drive down wages and in doing so it will cost the taxpayer more because those people will be forced into in-work benefits,” he added. “So all of us will pay in the end to subsidise these companies who are making sure their workforce earns less so that their shareholders can get more in dividends. And that’s not right.”

As Unite leads the fight to ban fire and rehire, the union’s new general secretary Sharon Graham has pledged to build industrial strength to defeat employers using fire and rehire right now.

Graham commented, “‘Fire and Rehire’ is an abhorrence. It’s a legal mechanism used by ‘bad bosses’ to slash labour costs under cover of the Covid pandemic. It is one of the scandals of our age.

“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,” she added. “That is what Unite intends to do.”

By Hajera Blagg

Pic by Mark Thomas

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