Today I wanted to speak in the debate about the policy on ‘fire and rehire’, where employers dismiss workers in order to re-employ them on inferior pay and worse terms and conditions. As a lifelong trade unionist I have always sought to advance the need of working people, ‘fire and rehire’ tactics are a disgrace; threatening to sack workers if they don’t take pay and conditions cuts must be outlawed. Sadly I wasn’t called in the debate, but had I, here is what I would have said:
In the days of high productivity, bosses understood that the better you treat your workers, the greater their return. In York, Joseph Rowntree understood that principle and invested heavily in his workforce for economic as well as social benefit. That’s why Labour believes in legislating for high standards in employment rights, because it delivers a stronger economy, and subsequently more jobs.
However, as the UK, scrapes along as one of the worst countries for productivity in Europe, with one of the weakest employment rights frameworks, it is no wonder that hoped for growth never materialises. The two are intrinsically linked.
Yet 1 in 10 workers, and 1 in 5 18 – 24 year olds, have faced the threat of being dismissed if they don’t consent to pay cuts and worse conditions.
Shortly, the Minister will wind up this debate, decry this practice, call these “bully boy bosses” “unscrupulous” and say how they must get their house in order (and they must), he may even pretend that he represents a Party for the workers, despite the 11 years his Party has been in power doing nothing to stop ‘fire and rehire’. And then all will go silent again.
In fact, over the last decade of Tory Britain ‘Fire and Rehire’ has accelerated. Not just on his watch, but for those this Government employs.
While the debate has focused on asset stripping companies set on exploiting workers, and they are an utter disgrace – bullying workers to profit out of their labour, it is also common practice in our NHS, in Government Departments and Local Government.
So now is no time to point his finger, but to act by lifting his finger.
In the public sector it has usually taken the form of ‘bogus’ reorganisations. In the NHS it is called ‘downbanding’. Where the staff are warned of a departmental reorganisation, which invariably leads to the boss taking on more responsibility and being upgraded and the rest slipping down the pay bands.
Others have had their overtime slashed or terms changed.
Their skill doesn’t change, what they do doesn’t change in reality, but what they are paid does. If they do not accept, then comes the threats and bullying. I will always recall in 2014 how pathology workers at Northampton General Hospital, only taking ‘work to rule action’ due to the doubling of their night shifts with a slash of £6,000 in their pay were locked out of their labs. NHS workers locked out. Outsourcing services is always a threat in the NHS under the Tories.
Today we have Go North West, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Brush Electrical and Centrica, and I stand in solidarity with all these workers and so many more in speaking in today’s debate and congratulate the unions Unite and GMB for standing firm by their members and by our principles.
The British Gas workers I met in York have had numerous threats of being sacked as the company seek to increase working hours by 3 each week, and worse, force workers to be available between 7am to 9pm to work the shifts Centrica demand and then be mandated to do the out of hours work whenever they determine.
Wherever it occurs. Workers need protection. They most definitely need a trade union, as Unite demonstrated recently at Heathrow. Government needs to act not just pity people as they are facing the sack. The Minister has the power to stop this.
The unfair dismissal law allows bosses to justify ‘fire and rehire’ under the “some other substantial reasons”; this needs amending. Two weeks today, there will be a Humble Address in this House. If, if this Government has any commitment to workers, it will bring forward emergency legislation to ban ‘fire and rehire’.
If it fails to do so, workers across the UK need to understand that Labour will look for every opportunity to do so. We are in Parliament – to be your voice and to defend your rights. If we were in power we would not hesitate to legislate.
If Government fail workers again, it is incumbent on all workers to take to the streets, make some noise and cause some disruption, before Government curb these rights too, as set out in their Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, to stop workers fighting for their rights.
But today it is our duty to fight for your rights, here in this Parliament and we will not rest until we see employment justice on the statute book and every employer held to account by it.