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Royal Mail faces strikes over alleged 'fire and rehire' plans

Royal Mail has been warned that it faces strikes over planned job cuts, with union Unite calling it "yet another case of ‘fire and rehire’".

Large Royal Mail post box with traffic lights in the background

Image: Pexels / SL Wong

Royal Mail has been accused of using ‘fire and rehire’ tactics to circumvent negotiations on staff contracts, and could face UK-wide strikes.

Trade union Unite said the company plans to sack nearly 1,000 managers and bring in lower rates of pay, accusing executives of “yet another case of ‘fire and rehire’”, which Royal Mail denies.

‘Fire and rehire’ refers to the practice of making staff redundant, only to re-employ them on a new, inferior contract.

The union is preparing an industrial action ballot which “would see strikes begin as soon as April”.

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Royal Mail has no excuse for announcing these job cuts, especially at the same time as ‘new’ bands on lower pay. That is just ‘fire and rehire’.

“They are not even losing money – Royal Mail’s private shareholders are doing very nicely out of the UK,” she added.

“This is shameless boardroom greed looking to ruin a great UK name and a 500-year old essential service.”

A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We are disappointed Unite is preparing to ballot its members.

“The consultation on this restructure has been progressing well over the last two months. We are now moving the consultation to the next phase so we are unsure why Unite has decided to seek a ballot at this time.

“From the outset we have been committed to conducting this process carefully and sensitively, working closely with our people and our trade unions.”

The news comes in the wake of the P&O Ferries scandal, which saw the company sack 800 people without notice, replacing their entire UK seafaring workforce with foreign agency workers paid less than the UK minimum wage.

P&O made the move without consulting staff or trade union representatives, despite being required by law to do so.

The move sparked outrage among MPs, with many believing P&O planned to rehire staff on inferior contracts.

In response, the government has announced that it will publish a new statutory code, in a bid to “clamp down” on “unscrupulous employers who fail to engage in meaningful consultations with employees.”

Labour Markets Minister Paul Scully said that “P&O Ferries’ actions were not a case of fire and rehire – just fire.”

“However,” he continued, “the way the company acted in not consulting employees before taking extreme measures was appalling. This has laid bare the measures some deceitful employers are prepared to take to exploit and break the law.”

“That is why we are producing a new code to tighten the screw on unscrupulous employers, who must comply with a new statutory code on tougher employment rules – including fire and rehire.”

As well as providing more detailed guidance for employers, the code will also be considered in court cases and employment tribunals. Courts will have the power to increase an employee’s compensation by 25 per cent in cases where “an employer unreasonably fails to comply with the Code where it applies.”

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that the plans “lack bite”, with the TUC general secretary calling the code “a baby step forward” that “won’t deter rogue employers like P&O from trampling over workers’ rights”.

Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner agreed, calling the move “too little, too late”.

“Today’s announcement leaves more questions than answers, and falls woefully short of stopping the scandal of fire and rehire altogether”, she said.

“We have already seen that a few extra pennies in compensation is a price rogue bosses will pay on the way to vastly greater profits.”

Labour has repeatedly called for a complete ban on fire and rehire, and last week passed a motion calling on the government to end the practice, after Conservative MPs abstained. However, without government support, the motion is unlikely to lead to a change in the law.

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