Put simply, Fire and re-hire is when an employer gives notice to sack all or a section of the workforce with an offer to rehire the same workers again on worse terms and conditions. Currently, this practice is usually lawful so long as the employer gives full notice to each employee.

As a former trade union lawyer – I represented trade union members for nearly 30 years before being elected to represent you as your Labour Member of Parliament in 2015 – I know how exploitative and unfair the practice of fire and rehire is. 

The power imbalance in the relationship between employer and employee and the lack of suitable employment rights in law has allowed companies to exploit that power imbalance and treat loyal and hardworking employees appallingly.


Sadly, fire and rehire is not a new phenomenon.

However, it has gained recent prominence because of the high-profile controversy generated by its use by major UK employers like British Airways, Heathrow Airport and British Gas; in circumstances they claim to be justified by the COVID pandemic to force their staff onto lower wages and longer hours and cut benefits such as pensions.

British Gas is a prime example. I visited striking British Gas engineers on their GMB picket line in Cardiff who had been subject to this practice. Their employment was terminated and they were being forced to take a pay cut and reduced terms and conditions or lose their jobs altogether.

The truth is, fire and Rehire has very little to do with the pandemic. Covid-19 is being used as a smokescreen for unscrupulous employers to do what they have long done -erode workers’ rights, slash pay, and keep wages and benefits low to increase value for shareholders.

What would this Bill do?

This Bill would enshrine good practice into law and penalise bad practice.

Under the Bill, employers must provide all relevant information to workforce representatives or a recognised union and consult with them, genuinely and properly, at the very earliest stage with the intention of reaching agreement on the least disagreeable way forward.

Where the employer fails to provide the necessary information or fails to engage in timely and genuine negotiations, the union (or worker reps) can apply to the CAC for a declaration identifying the steps necessary to put right any such failures. They can also apply to the Court for an injunction to compel those steps to be taken, and make any dismissal or degradation of terms and conditions void (so entitling the affected workers to recover in full any reductions in wages or benefits).

The Bill also gives a right to claim automatic unfair dismissal if the steps are not taken or if a worker is dismissed for refusing a reduction in terms and conditions.

Furthermore, if an employer attempts use of Fire and re-hire without following the correct good practice, trade unions will be exempt from the usual procedural requirements for industrial action if trying to protect members against Fire and re-hire. So where an employer acts outside the law as laid down by the Bill, workers can react faster and not be encumbered or delayed in their ability to take action.

The Bill will encourage employers to inform and negotiate with workplace representatives for the future and to abandon the draconian Fire and re-hire.

In January we forced a debate and a vote on the issue in Parliament. Not a single Conservative MP bothered to vote at the conclusion of the debate that called for the end of fire and rehire.

I’ll be voting to end fire and rehire tomorrow, and now the question is whether, once again, the Tories actions fail to match up to their rhetoric.

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