Labour MPs renew calls to outlaw ‘fire and rehire’ as British Gas workers sacked

Elliot Chappell
© Twitter/@GMBCampaigns

Labour MPs have renewed their call for government ministers to ban employers from using ‘fire and rehire’ practices as hundreds of British Gas workers have lost their jobs in a wave of mass sackings.

At midday today, engineers across the company who refused to submit to accept a 15% cut in pay rates and other imposed changes to their terms and conditions lost their jobs following 43 days of strike action.

Reacting to reports of the job cuts this morning, Labour’s Ed Miliband took to social media, saying that he is “proud to support the British Gas workers who are taking a stand against unacceptable fire and rehire tactics”.

“Boris Johnson said that fire and rehire was unacceptable, but he’s done nothing about it. The government needs to act now,” the Shadow Business Secretary wrote.

British Gas owner Centrica said the contract changes are “reasonable” and engineers are choosing to leave. “Our gas service engineers remain some of the best paid in the sector, earning £40,000 a year minimum,” a spokesperson said.

The Prime Minister has previously described use of fire and rehire tactics as “unacceptable”, and the government promised in 2019 that it would bring forward a new employment bill to improve people’s rights at work.

But as John McDonnell explained to an online rally on Tuesday, there is nothing in the government’s employment bill that “discourages employers from using brutal fire and rehire tactics to force through permanent wage cuts”.

“The government said that fire and rehire was unacceptable, but has done nothing about it,” Dan Carden said today, adding: “What’s happening to GMB union members at British Gas, and workers up and down the country, shows that the law must be changed.”

Nadia Whittome said that the company is today sacking hundreds of its workers because “they wouldn’t sign new contracts that would make their lives worse” and argued: “Companies shouldn’t be able to do this. Fire and rehire should be illegal.”

“Today, British Gas will sack hundreds of loyal engineers because they refused to accept working longer hours for less pay. Fire and rehire should be illegal. Solidarity to all those affected,” Rebecca Long-Bailey tweeted this morning.

British Gas announced in July last year that its field staff must accept the changes. On April 1st, the company handed 1,000 of its employees dismissal notices with a two-week period to change their minds and sign the new contracts.

Hundreds of British Gas staff are understood to have signed up to the new terms, including longer hours and shifts over weekends and bank holidays, leaving 500 having refused to agree to the new contracts by the end of Tuesday.

“That British Gas doesn’t give a toss for either customers or staff is shown by the mass sackings of engineers it needs so badly for customer services that it has suspended the sale of boiler insurance cover,” Justin Bowden said today.

The GMB regional secretary highlighted that the sackings are taking place in the “only consistently profitable part of the company”, adding that the management team is “too stupid to see the true value of a uniquely skilled and loyal workforce”.

“This is not the end of the dispute. As well as being in dispute with his own staff he is now in dispute with the national union GMB,” he said. This is why this dispute will continue and become an official national lockout dispute. There will be more strikes and action short of strikes.”

Keir Starmer argued in September last year against fire and rehire practices, describing them as “against British values”. He told the TUC congress that the tactics should be illegal and called on the government to act to end their use.

Using an opposition day earlier this year, Labour passed a motion to outlaw fire and rehire. The Prime Minister ignored the motion and instructed Conservative MPs to abstain on the vote. Opposition day motions are not binding on the government.

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