View from the community: 'Fire and Rehire: the scourge spreads'

A placard is held on the picket line at Murdoch House in Bothwell on day one of a 5-day strike by Br

A placard is held on the picket line on day one of a five-day strike by British Gas engineers in a dispute over pay and conditions - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Late in May, the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy published its annual report on trade union membership across the UK. The report showed that membership rose by some 118,000 in 2020 to more than 6.5 million, with the proportion of unionised employees also inching upwards for the third straight year to 23.7 per cent. For reasons the report doesn’t explore, it appears that union growth came entirely in the public sector with an actual fall in union members among private sector workers.

The report’s publication comes as evidence mounts of the gross and growing imbalance of power between employers and workers. Company managements are increasingly resorting to “fire and rehire” tactics to impose worse pay and conditions on their workforces with several household names including Argos, now part of the Sainsbury’s group, Tesco and Weetabix among those threatening the sack to extract huge concessions from staff.

George Binette, Hackney North & Stoke Newington Clp Trade Union Liaison Officer

George Binette says that a threat to the NHS comes in the form of the Health and Care Bill - Credit: George Binette

My February column sketched the background to a bitter “fire and rehire” dispute at British Gas, which eventually saw hundreds of skilled field engineers sacrifice their jobs rather than swallow far worse contracts. Since then, young workers employed by the Tower Hamlets-based “prop-tech” firm Goodlord have faced the sack while taking lawful strike action to oppose 25 per cent wage cuts. Their dispute is now settled, but a non-disclosure clause means details cannot be reported.

Elsewhere, some 290 Unite-organised workers at the JDE coffee manufacturing plant at Banbury, Oxfordshire have been striking in response to threatened dismissals for refusing to accept pay cuts nearing £12,000 a year.

Labour MP and former shadow cabinet member Barry Gardiner joined the picket line in Banbury on Monday, June 17 to launch a Private Members Bill, designed to block the legal loophole, which enables employers to pursue “fire and rehire”. In Gardiner’s words, “These are big companies... that made huge profits last year and they’re doing this simply out of greed.”

Whatever the fate of Gardiner’s bill, the current “fire and rehire” offensive illustrates the urgent need for both strong collective organisation and action in Britain’s workplaces.

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