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Dismiss and Re-engage Tactics

Volume 683: debated on Tuesday 10 November 2020

What steps his Department is taking to reduce the use of dismiss and re-engage tactics by employers. (908535)

Employers must have the flexibility to offer different terms and conditions. However, using threats about firing and rehiring as a negotiating tactic is unacceptable. The Government are working with ACAS to convene a roundtable of business organisations and employee representatives to discuss these issues.

Earlier this year, I joined workers and trade unions across Cardiff North to stand up to businesses behaving badly. People are struggling to grapple with the uncertainties of life under covid, yet some businesses are still using fire and rehire tactics to undermine pay and working conditions to line their own pockets. Will the Government stop the dithering and delay, outlaw these bad practices and protect workers’ rights?

I understand the enormous impact of losing a job, or even of a job being threatened. We expect all employers to treat employees fairly and respectfully, but businesses in real financial difficulty do need the flexibility to offer new terms and conditions to save as many jobs as they can.

Increasingly, rogue bosses such as British Airways, Centrica and ESS are using the covid crisis to cut pay and terms and conditions and are exploiting the legal loophole to fire and rehire loyal staff. With many workers now facing an impossible choice between losing pay or losing their job, will the Minister explain how these scandalous tactics can possibly be legal in the first place, and will he legislate to outlaw them—yes or no?

It is a commercial matter, but businesses do need flexibility with regard to terms and conditions—both for them and their employees—to protect jobs. We expect all employers to treat employees fairly and in the spirit of partnership. The very threat of fire and rehire is totally unacceptable, and we hope that all the businesses cited will reach a negotiated outcome with their employees.

I hope that the Minister will give a more open and clear response to my question. Heathrow airport is pushing staff to strike—a measure that garnered support in a ballot ending last week. Its behaviour now amounts to bullying. Staff are being summoned to meetings before the consultation is finished and without support. Will the Secretary of State say that this is wrong, condemn this behaviour and agree that this business has relied on the support of the community, who are owed something back in these troubled times?

I know how important Heathrow and the airlines sector are to the hon. Gentleman’s constituents, which is why we put so much support into that sector. I come back to the fact that we expect all employers to treat employees fairly and respectfully, no matter what job, what position and what community they live in.

The hon. Gentleman is a Minister in government. He has repeatedly called this unacceptable. A number of his colleagues have called out companies such as British Airways that have shamefully used fire and rehire tactics. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury called it

“a practice that all of us in the House would condemn.”—[Official Report, 13 October 2020; Vol. 682, c. 168.]

The Prime Minister said that he was looking at what we can do. People are fed up with this Government’s warm words and no intention of action, so let us hear it today: does the Minister support the aims of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands), and will he support it?

We will address and respond to the Bill when it comes before us. We have to reach the balance between protecting jobs and allowing employers who are in difficulty to have the necessary flexibility. We are one of the most flexible employment countries in the developed world, and we want to remain so, but we do want to make sure that businesses have their responsibilities and use those responsibilities wisely.

Surely the Minister must understand that fire and rehire tactics are not part of a negotiating tactic: they are a gun to the head of every worker in the organisation. It has nothing to do with negotiation: it says, “You will accept lower terms—otherwise we will chuck you out.” British Gas has recently become one of a number of large companies threatening their workforces in this way with this medieval tactic. I think the Minister must agree that it is not only a terrible way to reward the thousands of energy workers who have worked day and night to keep our energy supply constant and reliable during the covid crisis, but must be seen as a completely unacceptable way to conduct industrial negotiations. Will he join me in condemning the use of this practice and, specifically, write to British Gas demanding that it withdraw its threats to its employees?

In my first answer on this subject, I talked about the fact that we believe that making threats about firing and rehiring as a negotiating tactic is totally unacceptable. I hope that the situation with Centrica will be satisfactorily resolved for both employers and employees. However, it is important to retain the flexible labour markets where we remain 11th out of 140 countries with regard to the ease of hiring and, indeed, firing workers to make sure that we can protect important sectors across this country.

British Gas has put a halt on its fire and rehire plans, but only until the beginning of next year, and workers, many of whom are my constituents, are not optimistic. Centrica plc, British Gas’s parent company, reported profits of £900 million this year. Does the Minister agree that it is morally indefensible for workers to be expected to accept a reduction in their pay and conditions when shareholders still enjoy dividends, and if so, what steps will he take to ensure that workers are protected from these underhand tactics?

I talked about using threats in terms of negotiation. Employers need to treat employees fairly and in a spirit of partnership. I therefore hope that Centrica will reach a negotiated outcome with employees.