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Fire and Rehire: ACAS Report

Volume 696: debated on Tuesday 25 May 2021

When his Department plans to publish the ACAS report on fire and rehire and the Government’s response to that report. (900507)

When his Department plans to publish the ACAS report on fire and rehire and the Government’s response to that report. (900513)

When his Department plans to publish the ACAS report on fire and rehire and the Government’s response to that report. (900515)

When his Department plans to publish the ACAS report on fire and rehire and the Government’s response to that report. (900528)

The Department engaged with ACAS to hold discussions in order to generate evidence about the use of fire and rehire. ACAS officials have shared their findings with BEIS officials. It is right and proper that we give this evidence full consideration, and we will communicate our next steps in due course.

Mr Speaker, I am sure you will join me in welcoming the return of the Bradford Bulls to their iconic home of Odsal Stadium in Bradford.

A recent Survation poll found that 76% of those asked said that they think fire and rehire should be against the law. The Prime Minister has said that fire and rehire is “unacceptable”. The time to act is now. With no mention of it in the Queen’s Speech, when will the Minister legislate to make this practice illegal?

I congratulate the Bradford Bulls on their return.

We have always been clear that using the threats of fire and rehire as a tactic to put undue pressure on workers during negotiations is completely unacceptable, but we need to tread carefully when considering Government intervention in commercial contractual matters between employers and employees. That is why we are now carefully considering, with the evidence, our next steps.

May I first congratulate members of my union, Unite, at Go North West buses in Manchester who, after an incredible 85 days of continuous strike action, have now won a landmark victory against appalling fire and rehire abuses? My question to the Minister is straightforward: does he condemn rogue bosses such as Go North West or coffee producers Jacobs Douwe Egberts, which, despite record profits during lockdown, has provoked strike action by firing and rehiring more than 300 loyal staff on worse pay and conditions? Will the Minister wake up, smell the coffee and agree that this disgraceful behaviour leaves a bitter taste in the mouth?

I see what the hon. Gentleman has done there. His coffee-based puns belie the fact that this is an incredibly serious situation. As I was saying, if those companies or any others are using such a practice for bully-boy tactics, that is completely unacceptable. We need to look at the evidence before we intervene on the flexibility of the workforce, but clearly we do not want bully-boy tactics to be used for negotiations.

Thousands of workers at British Airways and Heathrow, including many of my constituents, have been at the sharp end of fire and rehire tactics during the covid outbreak. Across the country, one in 10 workers have been subject to such tactics since last March—that is almost 3 million people who have been forced to accept lower wages and longer hours or be sacked. How many more millions of workers will the Minister allow to be fired and rehired before the Government decide to outlaw the practice?

There is a distinct difference if the practice is used as a negotiation tactic: as I have said, if it is being used as a bully-boy tactic, that is completely unacceptable. However, there is an element of flexibility in our labour market, which we need to base on evidence. That is what the ACAS report is there to do. We are considering the evidence, and I am looking forward to coming back to this place to outline our actions in due course.

Fire and rehire is illegal in countries such as Germany and Spain. In 2019, the Government promised an employment Bill to make Britain the best place in the world to work, which could have outlawed the practice, but the Bill has been ditched. Given that the Government have looked the other way as fire and rehire has become endemic, can the Minister seriously claim to be committed to making Britain the best place in the world to work?

There is a huge difference between our employment law and that of Germany and Spain, in so much as theirs is very much more rigid—it lacks flexibility and that is reflected in the job figures and the job growth we have had in this country. The Government remain committed to bringing forward the employment Bill, where parliamentary time allows. We want to protect and enhance workers’ rights as we build back better from the pandemic.

Fire and rehire has been used against supermarket staff who worked through lockdown to keep our country running, and the practice has now spread into schools, with teachers being threatened with the sack unless they agree to worse terms and conditions. Does the Minister agree that it is completely unacceptable that our key workers, who have sacrificed the most in our national effort against covid, are the very people now being threatened by these bully-boy fire and rehire tactics?

I have said repeatedly that bully-boy tactics are absolutely unacceptable, but if it is a matter of a choice over protecting jobs in the first place, that is the flexibility that we need to check, based on the evidence, and ACAS has gone a long way to providing that evidence.

Why is it that fire and rehire has spread like wildfire across our country? Trade unions are shackled to prevent them from defending their members; employers have free rein to terminate workers’ contracts; and protections for workers are woefully weak. Opposition Members know how to outlaw fire and rehire, and I am more than happy to meet the Minister and show him how, but is not the truth that this Government are content with millions of workers being bullied into accepting low wages and worse terms and conditions or facing the sack, because it is in the Tories’ DNA to side with bad employers rather than to protect working people?

It is in the Tories’ DNA to create jobs and opportunities. After the previous recession, we were creating more jobs than the whole of Europe put together, and we will continue to do so as we build back better after this pandemic. ACAS has provided the evidence for us to consider; we are doing that in due course, and I look forward to coming back to this place. The TUC reported back in January on a survey of its members, but it has not shared its methodology; we cannot use that as substantial evidence unless the TUC shares that with us.