Call in South Tyneside to end 'fire and rehire' tactics used by hostile employers

Councillors in South Tyneside have backed calls for an end to ‘fire and rehire’ practices used by employers.

At the most recent meeting of South Tyneside Council, the local authority’s Labour Group tabled a debate looking at the “hostile employment practice”.

This includes employers attempting to terminate employees’ existing contracts and offer new contracts with poorer terms and conditions, such as lower wages, less holiday pay or lower pensions.

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Although it is not illegal, efforts are being made to outlaw the practice via a Parliamentary Private Members Bill from Labour MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner.

The motion was voted through by councillors.The motion was voted through by councillors.
The motion was voted through by councillors.

The Labour motion presented to South Tyneside Council on Thursday, January 12, asked for support for this bill and noted the Government intends to bring forward a code of practice linked to the issue, but omits the powers to outlaw fire and rehire practices.

Labour councillor Ann Best, who launched the motion, said fire and rehire has a financial impact, as well as impacts on people’s livelihoods and mental health and can “drive employment prospects down” more widely.

While stressing that most employers in South Tyneside were “decent” and “value and honour their workforces”, Cllr Best said it was important to challenge the practice locally to prevent it from “gaining traction”.

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Cllr Best continued: “It might seem obvious that a workforce who experiences this is demoralised, undervalued and is less productive and less respected.

“It seems quite straightforward to me that that causes retention issues and doesn’t harness the best of the workforce potential.

“But It doesn’t seem to have deterred companies from using this as a practice to hold their workers to ransom, almost as an intimidatory tactic to threaten them with the existence of their jobs”.

Recent examples of fire and rehire mentioned at the meeting included disputes linked to P&O Ferries, British Gas and the Labour-run Tower Hamlets Council.

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Although the Labour motion won support across the council chamber in South Tyneside, concerns were raised about the Parliamentary Private Members Bill having a negative impact on smaller businesses.

Councillor Glenn Thompson, independent member and leader of the South Tyneside Alliance Group, said he could not support the bill in its current form as it could “drive more redundancies or business failures”.

This included the bill creating legal criteria for “fragile” small businesses, the independent councillor explained, which could see firms penalised for restructuring.

Councillor Ian Forster, the council’s sole Conservative member, added the bill “appeared to be very rigid with very little flexibility” and that “any law with no exemptions or flexibility is generally bad law”.

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Several independent councillors also pointed the finger at South Tyneside Council’s employment practices and said the Labour motion was “hypocritical”.

Councillor John Robertson, independent, said the council needed to be “looking in-house” and aimed criticism at the council’s waste department around terminations and the use of agency staff.

Councillor Ann Best, responding, said she would expect anyone “treated badly by our council to challenge that and to be treated appropriately and correctly”.

Councillors also heard that the national bill, which had cross-party support, would “promote best practice” while providing a duty for employers to consult with workers in an “open and fair way”, rather than “imposing” changes.

Cllr Best added: “It’s actually to stop the bad practices rather than stop businesses from having to restructure in a responsible way, there is still provision for that”.

The motion agreed by councillors resolved to:

:: Ensure that South Tyneside Council continues to say ‘no’ to ‘fire andrehire’.

:: Continue leading by example via our own employment practices andstand together to remain vigilant, encouraging our contractors,partnership organisations and local businesses to resist the use of any‘fire and rehire’ practices so that we can seek employment security andstability for our local communities.

:: Signpost any local residents who believe they may be at risk of beingfired and rehired to relevant advice services as quickly as possible.

:: Express our support for the ‘Stop Fire and Rehire’ Campaign by ‘BackingBarry’s Bill’ and asking the Leader of South Tyneside Council to write toBarry Gardiner MP to confirm that support.