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Unite steps up fight against fire and rehire

Strikes and rallies launch campaign for ban on ‘bully boy’ tactics

UNITE launched a major national campaign today to end bosses’ “bully-boy” fire-and-rehire tactics.

Workers around the country began a fresh wave of strikes, solidarity actions and leafleting of workplaces to put pressure on PM Boris Johnson to outlaw the practice.

According to the TUC, one in 10 workers have already been threatened with fire and rehire – a situation in which bosses threaten staff with the sack unless they accept new contracts with worse pay and conditions.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has described the practice as a “disease that’s ripping through our workplaces.”

The union is fighting for members threatened with fire and rehire, including bus drivers at Go North West in Manchester and coffee workers at the Jacobs Douwe Egberts plant in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

The GMB union, which has also called for the practice to be banned, has condemned British Gas for pushing ahead with plans to issue “dismissal and engagement” procedures against hundreds of engineers in spite of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even Business Minister Paul Scully claimed last month that ministers would tackle fire and rehire, which he condemned as “bully-boy tactics.”

But the government’s lack of urgency has now seen Unite draft easily implemented legislation which would ban the tactics.

Unite assistant general secretary Howard Beckett said: “Millions of people all over the country are facing the sack if they don’t accept less pay and worse conditions. That’s thousands of pounds stolen out of the pockets of families and millions sucked out of communities.

“This wave of despicable fire-and-rehire tactics from bad bosses will only grow as furlough comes to an end. After months of pandemic hardship, this is no way to treat people.

“Businesses have been supported in the pandemic. Workers should be treated fairly too.”

Mr Beckett, who is one of the candidates standing to be Unite’s next leader, said that bad bosses can’t be allowed to take advantage of the current crisis.

“The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire with one stroke of a legislative pen,” he said.

GMB acting national secretary Andy Prendergast said that fire and rehire effectively allows bosses to treat workers “like second-class citizens.”

“A number of other countries have already outlawed this practice and such a ban is long overdue in Britain,” he added, with Ireland and Spain among those to have prohibited it.

“The use of the tactic by British Gas, who dismissed around 500 long-standing staff over the issue, shows how dangerous it is.

“As long as this remains an option, it will be abused by employers, and legislation is badly needed to curtail its use before it becomes more widespread.”

Labour’s shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald backed the new campaign and said that ministers could no longer “continue to stick their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing story after story of bullying.”

“More and more companies – many that are making a healthy profit and have received financial support from the public during the pandemic – are treating their workers in this disgraceful way,” he said.  

“I’m proud to stand with Unite and the whole labour movement in supporting workers, their families and communities as we rebuild out of the pandemic.

“The government can and must  act now by bringing forward legislation to end fire and rehire once and for all.”

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