Unite launches national campaign to end 'bully boy' fire and rehire with a day of coordinated strikes and actions across the country

Unite the union will today (Monday 26 April) launch a major national campaign to end the growing practice of fire and rehire.

The UK's leading trade union kicks off the campaign with coordinated strikes and actions across the country, including at Go North West, Goodlord and Fife Council.

Workers, trade unionists and supporters around the country will come out on strike, arrange solidarity actions and leaflet workplaces, as pressure mounts on the government to take action against a practice labelled “bully-boy” by a government minister.

Fire and rehire, which forces workers to accept worse pay and conditions in order to keep their job, has been described as a 'disease that's ripping through our workplaces' by Unite's leader, Len McCluskey. The TUC found that already one in 10 workers had been threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic, with that number set to grow dramatically as furlough ends unless the law is changed.

Unite is representing its members in a number of disputes with employers over their fire and rehire attacks on workers, including at Goodlord, Go North West, Brush Electronics, SAICA, Tesco and Jacobs Douwe Egberts. The union successfully supported workers to defeat fire and rehire at SPS Technologies.

Opposition to fire and rehire has surfaced within the government too under pressure from trade unions and opposition MPs. Last month in the House of Commons, Paul Scully MP, parliamentary-under-secretary of state for business, said the government “will tackle” fire and rehire, which he condemned as “bully-boy tactics”. Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, leader of the House of Commons, called fire and rehire threats “wrong” and a “bad practice”, adding companies should know “better than to behave in this way”. 

A recent Observer investigation into firms engaging in fire and rehire found that 70 per cent are turning a profit while over half received government support during the pandemic and some are increasing executive pay while trying to reduce the pay and conditions of their workers.

With employment law in the UK not fit for purpose, the union says that these abuses will continue without a law change as boardrooms have shown they cannot be trusted to regulate themselves. 

Unite’s campaign demands that the government steps in, ends fire and rehire and makes the practice illegal, just as it is in Ireland and Spain. The trade union has drafted legislation that is easy to implement and would see fire and rehire outlawed.

Announcing the launch of a major national campaign to end fire and rehire, Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal, said:

“Millions of people all over the country are facing the sack if they don't accept less pay and worse conditions. That’s thousands of pounds stolen out of the pockets of families and millions sucked out of communities.

“This wave of despicable fire and rehire tactics from bad bosses will only grow as furlough comes to an end. After months of pandemic hardship, this is no way to treat people.

“The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire. It’s already banned in Ireland and Spain and unacceptable in other competitor economies where governments step in to defend workers.

“Businesses have been supported in the pandemic. Workers should be treated fairly too. 

“It has been workers who have seen our nations through this Covid crisis. Many have lost friends or family members to this terrible virus. And now they face a pandemic of greed. Bad employers are using the opportunity of crisis to fire and rehire workers on dramatically reduced terms and conditions. It can’t be allowed to happen. Workers cannot be made to pay for a crisis they have not caused.

“The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire with one stroke of a legislative pen.

“But if the government won’t do the right thing, then Unite will. We have members in every sector and in every nation taking industrial action, we have a strike fund of over £40,000,000 and daily strike pay of £70. Fire and rehire will be stopped.”

Endorsing the campaign, Andy McDonald, Labour's shadow secretary of state for employment rights, said:

"Boris Johnson and his ministers can't continue to stick their fingers in their ears to avoid hearing story after story of bullying and abusive fire and rehire tactics. More and more companies - many that are making a healthy profit and have received financial support from the public during the pandemic - are treating their workers in this disgraceful way. 

"I'm proud to stand with Unite and the whole labour movement in supporting workers, their families and communities as we rebuild out of the pandemic. The government can and must act now by bringing forward legislation to end fire and rehire once and for all."

Ritchie James, Unite's north west regional secretary, speaking on behalf of the 400 bus drivers in Manchester on strike against the bus company’s fire and rehire tactics, said:

“It’s just not fair that after a pandemic which has claimed so many bus drivers’ lives that Go North West wants to reduce our pay by £2,500 a year. We’ll suffer and our families will suffer.

“Passengers are put at risk by these attacks against us, with Go North West planning a 10 per cent cut in bus driver numbers and reducing some of our sick pay. That could force people into work when they should be at home. At any time this is irresponsible but during Covid-19, this is criminal.

“Go North West’s parent company made over £80 million in operating profit last year but thinks it's ok to treat us this way.

“It’s not OK and we won’t be intimidated. We’re fighting back and together we know we can stand up for ourselves, our families and our community.”

Athena Parnell, one of 20 lettings referencing staff at Goodlord, said:

“It just feels so awful to be told that either you take a £6,000 per year pay cut, down to well below London living wage, and have maternity, holiday and sick pay all reduced, or I’ll be let go.

“With everything that’s happened in the last year, that just feels like bullying. I was taught to always stand up to bullies - and that’s exactly what my co-workers and I are doing standing together to stop this exploitation and end fire and rehire.”

Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal, who represented SPS workers in their successful dispute of fire and rehire, said:

“Striking in the midst of the economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic is not an easy thing to do. But our members would not roll over and accept SPS’s fire and rehire demands that would see staff losing up to £3,000 per year. Their strength and solidarity has resulted in a deal that protects their incomes and that allows them to return to work with their heads held high.

“Fire and rehire is a blight that is taking hold in workplaces across the country as employers look to take advantage of the pandemic and its aftermath to target workers’ pay and T&Cs.

“Unite will help its members fight off these attacks, but nobody should face them in the first place. That’s why it’s time for the government to step in and end fire and rehire once and for all.”