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Fire and Rehire

Volume 741: debated on Thursday 30 November 2023

The Government consulted on a draft statutory code of practice on fire and rehire earlier this year. The Government response and the final version of the code will be published in spring next year. The code sets out employers’ responsibilities when seeking to change contractual terms and conditions of employment, and is designed to ensure that dismissal and re-engagement is used only as the last resort.

The very fact that only last week P&O Cruises felt able to say it would impose new contractual terms on workers through fire and rehire tactics shows that some employers still feel that they can use these tactics with impunity, in spite of the Government’s promise to clamp down on them. I thank the Minister for his answer, but is there any way he could bring in the legislation more urgently, so that we can protect our workers properly?

I agree with the sentiment behind the hon. Lady’s question in terms of bringing legislation forward as quickly as possible. Of course, we have to get this right. I have to say that P&O was not a fire and rehire situation; it was a fire-only situation, which was strongly condemned by this Government and by many other stakeholders, and a civil investigation is ongoing into the matters surrounding that case. But yes, the hon. Lady is right, and we are keen to get the new statutory code of practice in place as soon as possible. We expect that to be in spring next year, and once it is in force, the employment tribunal can increase employees’ compensation by up to 25% when an employer fails unreasonably to comply with the code.

Last week, concerns were raised that the Carnival group was making provision to fire and rehire hundreds of staff working on P&O Cruises and Cunard Line, reviving memories of last year, when P&O Ferries sacked over 800 of its employees and replaced them with agency labour, while the Government sat back and let it happen. Does the Minister agree that the only way to provide workers with the security they deserve is by legislating to outlaw fire and rehire tactics once and for all? If not, it is time the Government came clean with the British public and admitted that they will always side with bad bosses.

That is not the case at all. We take these matters very seriously, but we do not think that completely banning fire and rehire is the right thing to do because there are some situations in which companies need to restructure quickly. We think that employees’ proper consultation rights should be observed. Where they are not observed and where an employer does not follow the statutory code of practice, employment tribunals can impose a significant uplift on redundancy payments. We think that is the best way to deal with this, by striking a balance between companies and their workers.

Fire and rehire is rife in this country. Research published by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that, between March 2020 and July 2021, 43,000 employers changed their employees’ contracts through fire and rehire techniques. The Government promised in March 2022 that they would take action following the P&O scandal, and we now learn that it will be a full two years since that time before anything actually changes. Given the propensity for using fire and rehire tactics, can the Minister tell us how many employees he estimates will have had their contract changed through fire and rehire in that two-year period?

I do not have that number to hand. We want to strike a balance between employers and their workforces. We condemn what P&O did. We need to bring in new measures on fire and rehire, and we have committed to do that. A consultation is clearly needed to make sure those provisions are fair on both businesses and workers. That is what we are doing right now, and we intend to bring those provisions before the House next spring.