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Fire and Rehire

Volume 701: debated on Tuesday 21 September 2021

3. What steps he is taking to help ensure that businesses do not use fire and rehire practices. (903530)

We have been clear that threats to fire and rehire as a tactic to pressure workers during negotiations are totally unacceptable. That is why we have asked the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service to produce guidance to help employers to reach negotiated outcomes with their workforce. We continue to keep the issue under review.

While Members across the House were munching away this morning at the country’s favourite breakfast cereal, Weetabix, they will have been blissfully unaware that Post Holdings, which owns Weetabix, has turned its guns on its workforce with fire and rehire. Employees at Weetabix are set to lose £5,000 per annum, and of course if they refuse they will lose their jobs. That is quite simply not good enough. Minister after Minister, including the Prime Minister, has stood at the Dispatch Box saying how abhorrent fire and rehire is. Will the Minister please tell the House what he intends to do about fire and rehire? Can he confirm that the Government will support the Second Reading of the Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill—the private Member’s Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner)—on 22 October?

The Government take fire and rehire very seriously. Obviously there are occasions when businesses need the flexibility to change workers’ terms and conditions to avoid mass redundancies and insolvency, but there have been examples of its being used as a bully boy tactic. I know that the Labour party understands that, because as recently as July, it made a load of its own employees redundant and hired workers on temporary contracts with worse terms and conditions to keep the party afloat—unless that was a case of one law for the Labour party and another for UK businesses.

I think that every Member of this House shares concerns about the practice of fire and rehire, but does the Minister agree that taking a sledgehammer to the delicate ecosystem of redundancy laws contained in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 is fraught with danger and that there are levers that we can deploy instead that would strongly disincentivise such conduct? Will he meet me again to discuss the issue?

I always thank my hon. Friend for her interventions in the matter, because with her experience as an employment barrister she has seen it from both angles. The Government do not currently plan to legislate, but because of its obvious importance we are keeping the matter under review. I recognise the wealth of expertise on employment law and related matters in this House; I have met MPs on both sides of the issue and am glad to continue these conversations with my hon. Friend.

We hear lots of talk of levelling up from Ministers at the Dispatch Box, do we not? Well, here is a genuine opportunity to improve terms and conditions for employees up and down the land, including at Weetabix, and legislate through the private Member’s Bill. Stop the reviews, get on with it and legislate!

We introduced the national living wage. We have enabled workers to carry over more annual leave because of the pandemic. We have increased the reference period that employers use to calculate holiday pay, to improve seasonal workers’ wages. We are continuing to improve workers’ rights over this Parliament. We are indeed the workers’ party, so we will continue to make sure that we tackle fire and rehire when it is used as a bully boy tactic.