The practice of ‘Fire and re-hire’ is when employers use, or threaten to use, weaknesses in the law that allow them to sack workers only to reemploy them on reduced terms.
Sadly, fire and rehire is not a new phenomenon, but has gained prominence because of the high-profile controversy generated by its recent use by major employers such as British Airways, Heathrow Airport and British Gas in circumstances they claim to be justified by the COVID pandemic.
This is not only a dismal way to treat your employees but is made worse by the fact that BA have made use of government support under the Job Retention Scheme.
These actions are wrong – they are also outlawed in most other European countries.
Many workers at British Gas have carried out vital work during the coronavirus pandemic to keep homes warm and deliver food parcels, and the actions of both BA and British Gas are completely unacceptable. There are many in Cardiff Central who work for British Gas, I wrote to them earlier this year to urge them to change course and take a more responsible approach – you can see this letter here.
This situation could have been avoided had the government followed the example of Denmark by making support schemes conditional on jobs being retained, as Labour have called for.
The use of these tactics simply mean that working people pay for the economic impact of the Covid-19 crisis. In addition to those who lose their jobs permanently, workers will have their pay reduced and have benefits (like pensions) accrued through years of loyal work for their employer cut or removed.
Labour, along with trade unions have been pushing for a change in the law to outlaw these tactics and give hard working employees the wage security they need. Nobody is pretending this is an easy time for any employer, but we’re urging them to work with trade unions to find a fairer and more responsible way forward.
At a time of high unemployment, employees will be forced to accept reduced terms and conditions through fire and rehire if the practice is not banned. Unless action is taken to protect the economy and workers’ rights, there will be a race to the bottom.
As we push to recover from the devastation of COVID-19, it’s vitally important we learn the lessons of the past. The economic recovery from the 2008 financial crisis was characterised by poor productivity and low wage growth. Well-paid, secure work is good for the economy.
Greater security for workers would mean a stronger recovery.