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Employment

Boris Johnson urged to ban fire and rehire at next month’s Queen’s Speech

The Prime Minister has been tight-lipped on whether legislation to tackle fire and rehire tactics is coming – despite questioning from Labour MP Kim Johnson

Boris Johnson has been urged to introduce legislation to protect workers from ‘fire and rehire’ tactics after scores of British Gas engineers were sacked last week.

Liverpool Riverside MP Kim Johnson put Boris Johnson on the spot at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, asking the Conservative leader whether there would be anything in May 11’s Queen’s Speech to prevent firms from forcing worse working conditions on workers.

Prime Minister Johnson said in his response to the Labour MP: “I repeat what I have said about that practice. If the honourable lady would be kind enough to send me details about the case that she raises, I will be happy to take it up.”

Following the Prime Minister’s response, Kim Johnson penned a letter to No.10 pointing out that he had called ‘fire and rehire’ “unacceptable” in one of the three occasions he had been asked about the issue in parliament.

Kim Johnson told The Big Issue: “It’s indefensible that Boris Johnson can call the fire and rehire tactics of employers ‘bully boy tactics’ and ‘unacceptable’ yet sits on his hands when he has the opportunity to outlaw these attacks on workers’ rights.”

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The Labour MP’s call comes after British Gas engineers were sacked following a deadline to sign up to new terms last week. The GMB union workers had walked out on 43 occasions in a bid to stop bosses forcing them to sign contracts demanding more working hours at unsociable times, working out at less pay. 

Martin Glover, a British Gas engineer for 16 years before leaving last week, told The Big Issue he hoped engineers’ efforts had brought ‘fire and rehire’ to national attention. He said: “I think it’s a bit too late for us now but hopefully what we have done will help other people who will be going through the same situation.”

More workers are facing the prospect of ‘fire and rehire’. While British Airways settled a row with Unite in January, 400 Manchester bus drivers are in an ongoing dispute with local operator Go Ahead North West over the use of the tactics. There have also been reports that workers at the Jacobs Douwe Egberts factory in Banbury could launch industrial action against ‘fire and rehire’.

Kim Johnson added: “British Gas is not alone in using the cover of the pandemic to launch an attack on its own workforce and the Government must not turn their backs on this while at the same time handing out millions of pounds in support to their donors, their cronies. 

“I, along with Labour colleagues and our trade union allies, will not stay silent on this and will continue to demand that this Government acts and acts now in banning fire and rehire.”

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Kim Johnson’s letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister

Thank you for inviting me to write to you about the recent disgraceful example of fire and rehire at British Gas as raised a PMQs on Wednesday 21st April.

I am slightly surprised at your request to be given more information about this situation. My colleague Sharon Hodgson MO raised this matter with you in December last year. In January you responded to another question from my colleague Anna McMorrin MP about British Gas workers, saying “we regard fire and rehire as unacceptable, and will continue to make that point and seek further means of redress.”

The cause of British Gas workers has been raised time and time again in Parliament, without any affirmative action.

The warm words we hear back from ministers are no use to the hundreds of highly skilled British Gas engineers around the country – who were sacked last week after refusing to be bullied into signing new contracts that would see them working longer, more unsociable hours for less pay.

The threat of fire and rehire was made against these workers in July last year before any negotiations had even started. It’s a scandal.

The Secretary of State commissioned a fact-finding exercise by ACAS into fire and rehire after pressure from Labour MPS and the union for the GMB British Gas workers. I am aware that the report was presented to BEIS (Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy) officials on 17th February, but it is still yet to see the light of day and no plans have been announced to give workers the protection they need against the bully-boy tactics you claim to oppose. So I will commit to writing what I requested this afternoon – will you announce legislation in the Queen’s Speech to put right this wrong?

British Gas is a disgraceful example but sadly fire and rehire is impacting on more and more workers in this country. Research by the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) showed that nearly one in 10 (nine per cent) workers have been told to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions, more hours, and less pay, since the first lockdown in March 2020.

This is an economy-wide degradation of workers’ rights, terms and conditions; it breaks basic principles of fairness between workers and their employers and it’s happening on your watch – where do you stand on workers’ rights? It’s time to make a stand and do something about it.

Yours sincerely,

Kim Johnson

MP for Liverpool Riverside

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