National action launched to end ‘fire and rehire’ – while Unite suspends RATP bus drivers strike

Bus workers on the picket line at the RATP Stamford Brook garage in west London

THE UNITE union yesterday launched a nationwide campaign to ‘end the growing practice of fire and rehire’ through a programme of strike action alongside mass leafleting of workplaces.

Fire and rehire, which forces workers to accept worse pay and conditions in order to keep their job, has been described as a ‘disease that’s ripping through our workplaces’ by Unite’s leader Len McCluskey.

The Trades Unions Congress (TUC) found that already one in 10 workers had been threatened with fire and rehire during the pandemic, with that number set to grow dramatically as furlough ends.

Unite is representing its members in a number of disputes with employers over their fire and rehire attacks, including at Goodlord, Go North West, Brush Electronics, SAICA, Tesco and Jacobs Douwe Egberts. The union successfully supported workers to defeat fire and rehire at SPS Technologies.

Howard Beckett, Unite’s assistant general secretary for politics and legal matters, said: ‘Millions of people all over the country are facing the sack if they don’t accept less pay and worse conditions. That’s thousands of pounds stolen out of the pockets of families and millions sucked out of communities.

‘This wave of despicable fire and rehire tactics from bad bosses will only grow as furlough comes to an end. After months of pandemic hardship, this is no way to treat people.

‘The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire. It’s already banned in Ireland and Spain and unacceptable in other competitor economies where governments step in to defend workers.

‘Businesses have been supported in the pandemic. Workers should be treated fairly too.

‘It has been workers who have seen our nations through this Covid crisis. Many have lost friends or family members to this terrible virus. And now they face a pandemic of greed. Bad employers are using the opportunity of crisis to fire and rehire workers on dramatically reduced terms and conditions. It can’t be allowed to happen. Workers cannot be made to pay for a crisis they have not caused.

‘The government knows this is wrong and can end fire and rehire with one stroke of a legislative pen.

‘But if the government won’t do the right thing, then Unite will. We have members in every sector and in every nation taking industrial action, we have a strike fund of over £40,000,000 and daily strike pay of £70. Fire and rehire will be stopped.’

However despite the launch of this nationwide campaign against fire and rehire, and on the eve of calling thousands of members employed by the Metroline bus privateer in west London out on strike next month, Unite has suspended the strike action by 2,400 members employed by the other major west London bus privateer, RATP.

The latest day of strike action was due yesterday, but Unite called it off after reaching an agreement with the management and the deal is to be put to the membership on either Thursday or Friday, with a vote in the garages.

The union is recommending a ‘yes’ vote.