At the start of every Parliamentary year, a ballot takes place for twenty MPs to be given time in the agenda to introduce legislation, known as Private Member’s Bills.
I put in, along with a couple of hundred colleagues, but sadly the Deputy Speaker, who presides over the process, did not pull my number out of the hat.
The successful MPs are then deluged with emails from campaign groups asking them to adopt this proposal or that suggestion as their issue to take forward and change the law.
I had already decided what I would have proposed if I had been successful: a bill to prohibit ‘fire and rehire.’
Fire and rehire is a practice that has become a scandal during the pandemic. A business will sack its employees, then offer them their jobs back on less pay and worse terms and conditions.
We already have pretty weak employment laws to protect people at work, but at least under normal conditions the employer has to consult with the workforce and enter a period of negotiations and notice of changes. Fire and rehire gets round all of that. It is blunt and brutal and morally wrong.
Some government ministers agree with me. One minister described it as “bully boy tactics” and he is right. But ministers refuse to bring forward legislation to outlaw it, which would be simple to do.
Instead, some of the UK’s biggest and most prestigious employers have used fire and rehire as a tactic. One such example is British Gas, who are trying to force through changes to their engineering workforce. The men and women who come and service your gas boiler and central heating.
Skilled men and women, who have worked loyally for their company for ten, fifteen or almost twenty years in some cases. They are sacked and told they can have their job back, but must take big pay cuts. It is a morally outrageous way to treat people.
The tragedy is that everyone knows the pandemic has caused big damage to businesses. If the employers came to their employees and trade unions and said, “we have a problem, let’s work together to get us through this,” then I am sure most people would understand and accept that.
Instead we see this brutish approach. And I am sure some of the businesses using fire & rehire are simply using the pandemic as a cover to force through pay cuts they would never have got away with in normal times.
Fire and rehire is a national scandal. People are worth more, and deserve better than this. And although I didn’t win the PMB ballot, I will still be pressing for a law change to prohibit this dreadful tactic.