2. Fire and re-hire: dismissal and re-engagement in Community
Conference notes the introduction into Parliament of Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill by Barry Gardiner MP and backed by the Institute of Employment Rights which sought to amend the law relating to workplace information and consultation, employment protection and trade union rights in order to provide safeguards for workers against dismissal and their re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions which was blocked by the government at second reading in October 2021;
That in November 2021 the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) published guidance for employers considering making changes to employment contracts, making clear that fire and rehire should be an option of last resort and that employers should first have made all reasonable attempts to reach agreement through full consultation;
That in March 2022 the government announced its intention to develop a new Statutory Code of Practice, "which will clarify and give some legal force to government expectations that employers should behave fairly and reasonably when seeking to change employees’ terms and conditions" and that "The code will act as a deterrent, particularly to those employers seeking to use the threat of fire and rehire as a negotiation tactic." At the time of writing this code has not been brought forward.
Conference further notes the subsequent introduction of a private member’s bill the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill introduced by Lord Woodley (Labour) in the House of Lords in August 2022.
Conference shares the widespread concern at the BBC reports in July 2021 that companies involved in high-profile disputes about alleged ‘fire and rehire’ tactics included British Gas, P&O Ferries, Sainsbury’s, Argos, British Airways, Weetabix, Jacob Douwe Egberts (JDE), and Tesco.
Conference is particularly concerned that use of these tactics extend much wider and encompass our own employers in Community.
In particular, Conference notes the case of registered charity St Monica Trust who against a backdrop of a national recruitment crisis in social care, in 2022, gave staff an ultimatum: sign new detrimental contracts effectively cutting their pay (with some employees losing more than £3,000 a year and also facing cuts to their sick pay and reductions in working hours) or face dismissal. At the time of writing this dispute had resulted in strike action.
Conference has previously highlighted many aspects of the crisis in social care and the use of ‘fire and re-hire’ tactics is just one response from unscrupulous employers who seek to make cost-savings at the expense of their key asset – their workers.
Conference believes there is a clear need for stronger enforcement mechanisms against exploitative employers who put share-holders or trustees interests first, whilst ruining the lives of their workers, and failing to remunerate them appropriately.
Conference therefore calls on the Community Service Group Executive to:
a) Continue to work with the National Executive Council (NEC) and other Service Group Executives to highlight this pernicious practice and the effect it has on UNISON members including those in Community.
b) Support the call for stronger enforcement mechanisms and legislative change to ultimately outlaw Dismissal and Re-engagement.
Community Service Group Executive