Grahame Morris MP spoke in this morning’s Westminster Hall Debate – secured by Gavin Newlands MP – on the implications of the Covid-19 outbreak for employment rights.
The Easington MP paid tribute to the thousands of employers “who have gone out of their way to protect and reassure their employees, at a time when they themselves are facing unparalleled stress and uncertainty.”
He went on to condemn the “morally despicable and indefensible” practice of fire and rehire, whereby employers force workers to sign up to wage cuts and inferior conditions, under threat of dismissal.
Mr Morris noted the excellent work of Unite the Union in successfully mitigating many cases of employers attempting to utilise this practice.
He noted that this process has, however, proven impossible in the case of British Airways cargo workers based at Heathrow Airport, where the more than 850 Unite members are set to be balloted for strike action in December. Meanwhile, Unite the Union has confirmed December strike action elsewhere at Heathrow airport, in protest at loss of employment rights and wage cuts. This will involve firefighters, engineers, campus security, baggage operations, operational and airside workers and will – if employers fail to act in a reasonable fashion – effectively close the airport.
Meanwhile, ESS, part of the multi-million pound Compass Group, has been branded the UK’s “most heartless employer” by Unite, due to its treatment of staff working at Ministry of Defence bases, who are being forced to sign contracts making them hundreds of pounds worse-off, or immediately lose their jobs.
The Easington MP also cited cases of employment rights abuses in the Criminal Justice system. Court staff are being made to attend workplaces that the PCS union insists are simply not Covid-secure. The alarming number of outbreaks in courts suggests that the union is correct.
Mr Morris suggested that this may be a direct consequence of there being no risk assessment process agreed with the union, or perhaps the Courts Service’s refusal to publish individual site assessments, only making them available on request.
In prisons, some governors have “tweaked” their Exceptional Delivery Models to permit classroom-based education, despite national guidance that says this must not happen while Covid threat levels remain high. The UCU union is seeking urgent clarification on this.
The Easington MP concluded that “A business, government, even society itself, will be judged on how we get through this extremely difficult period.”
He said, “Just a week ago, the Minister stood in the Chamber and said that ‘the very threat of fire and rehire is totally unacceptable.’ I’d like to ask, will he commit today to outlaw this totally unacceptable practice, once and for all?”