House of Commons showdown looms over bid to end 'fire and rehire' practice

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A campaign in support of the bill, bankrolled by trade unions, is reaching a crescendo ahead of the bill's second reading on Friday, when ministers are expected to be accused of breaking promises to act.

House of Commons showdown looms over bid to end 'fire and rehire' practice

Image: Labour MP Barry Gardiner is leading a campaign against 'fire and rehire'

A House of Commons showdown between Labour and the Conservatives is looming over a move to clamp down on employers using “fire and rehire” to drive down wages and sack staff.

Despite Boris Johnson and other ministers condemning the tactic, a bill promoted by Labour MP Barry Gardiner to end the practice is being opposed by the government, although some Conservative MPs are backing it.

A campaign in support of the bill, bankrolled by trade unions, is reaching a crescendo ahead of the bill’s second reading on Friday, when ministers are expected to be accused of breaking promises to act.

Big companies that have used fire and rehire include Weetabix, Argos, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, British Airways, Heathrow, British Gas and Asda.

Some Labour councils, including Tower Hamlets and Sandwell, have also used it.

This is disgraceful if it’s true but won’t be a surprise given Ministers still refuse to outlaw fire and rehire.

The Tories sell out working people at every possible opportunity. Fire and rehire is immoral, economically damaging and has absolutely no place in our society. https://t.co/JONWc4PGaa

— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) October 13, 2021

Mr Gardiner, a government minister under Tony Blair, has also singled out for criticism the Clarks shoe company, which is threatening to sack 100 workers at a distribution centre in Somerset if they refuse to accept a 15% pay cut.

“Clarks was founded 200 years ago by two Quaker brothers who built houses, schools and even a swimming school for their staff and they would be turning in their graves if they knew how the company was treating its workforce today,” he told Sky News.

In January this year, under pressure about the actions of British Gas and British Airways, the prime minister told MPs: “We believe that using threats of firing and rehiring is unacceptable as a negotiating tactic.”

Then in March, House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg called it a “bad practice” and told MPs: “Employers threatening to fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic are doing something that is wrong and decent employers do not do.

House of Commons showdown looms over bid to end 'fire and rehire' practice

'Fire and rehire' battle to intensify amid push to make the employment practice illegal

“Companies should know better than to behave in this way. All companies operate best when their employees are operating with enthusiasm and these kind of tactics are very bad for morale in businesses.”

Despite these statements, Conservative MPs are on a three-line whip to oppose Mr Gardiner’s bill, a move – revealed last week by Sky News – that provoked fury among Labour MPs, who are on a three-line whip to vote for it.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “This is disgraceful if it’s true, but won’t be a surprise given ministers still refuse to outlaw fire and rehire.

“The Tories sell out working people at every possible opportunity. Fire and rehire is immoral, economically damaging and has absolutely no place in our society.”

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Criticising the Tories’ three-line whip, Mr Gardiner told Sky News: “I have bent over backwards to make this cross-party. I have made the bill as cross-party and non-controversial as possible.

“I’m not actually banning fire and rehire. What I’m doing is trying to put good practice into statute and penalise bad practice. I’m not banning it outright.

“Businesses sometimes have to restructure. I have been very careful not to ban it, but to make good practice the statutory norm.

“What it does is put obligations on the employer to consult, be transparent and negotiate as soon as they begin to think they may have to make substantial changes in working practices or restructure because they think they might have to go into liquidation.

“If they follow these steps they can ultimately end up firing and rehiring, but only if they follow these steps.

“If they fail to follow these steps then the workforce or the union can apply to the Central Arbitration Committee. They will take a decision on whether they have followed these steps or not.”

One Conservative backbencher who is backing Mr Gardiner’s Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, has described fire and rehire as an “awful practice”.

“Whether it’s British Airways who attempted to blame this decision on the coronavirus pandemic, British Gas or Go North West Buses in Greater Manchester, this scandal has affected thousands across the country,” he said.

“The bill gives us a chance to right this wrong and to show that this is a country that takes its workers as well as its businesses seriously.”

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