I was disappointed not to have been called to speak in the debate on Barry Gardiner’s Private Members Bill on outlawing the abhorrent practice of fire and rehire.
I was delighted to share a platform with Barry during the recent Newcastle Fire and Rehire Rally held at the feet of the great democratic champion that was Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey.
As Prime Minister, he passed the 1832 Great Reform Act, strengthening our democratic institutions and the House of Commons.
After 1832, further reforms opened up the franchise, which eventually opened up parliamentary politics to working people.
This led to the founding of a Labour Party, representing working class interests in Parliament and securing Labour Governments that transformed the lives of working people rather than protecting the interests of the rich and powerful.
Without these democratic reforms, a Bill to end the pernicious policy of Fire and Rehire would not be discussed.
There are points of agreement between the Government and supporters of the Bill.
Businesses using a global pandemic to cut pay and conditions is abhorrent.
I agree with the Leader of the House that Fire and Rehire is a ‘bad practice’ and ‘wrong’ and share the view of the Business Minister, that it is a form of ‘bully-boy tactics’.
However, I depart from the Hon Member for Sutton and Cheam, when he stated: “It’s important to retain a flexible labour market where we remain eleventh out of 140 when it comes to the ease of hiring and indeed of firing workers to make sure that we can protect important sectors in this country.”
‘Flexibility’ is coded language for empowering employers and denying working people employment right and job security. It is in this context, of job insecurity, in which fire and rehire prospers.
Rather than being proud of this situation, I believe for a Government to allow working people to be exploited and disposed of in such a way by business is shameful.
The Minister may welcome the lack of job security and employment rights, however, for working families, Fire and Rehire, cutting pay, terms and conditions can mean workers homes are put at risk, with families pushed into poverty and debt.
We are not talking about inconsequential amounts.
At Weetabix, changes to shifts and working patterns could result in engineers losing £5,000 a year. Last year Weetabix’s profits went up by almost 20% to more than £81 million.
At Tesco’s Livingston Distribution centre 290 workers are looking at pay cuts of between £4,000 and £13,000 a year.
This is a company whose profits increased by 29%, resulting in a pre-tax profit of £551 million.
A company who received £249 million in taxpayer support through business rates relief during Covid.
I stand with my trade union, Unite the Union, who are supporting workers at Weetabix and Tesco.
I say to workers: join a Union.
When your employer wants to cut your wage, when your government and democratic institutions side with business interest over workers interests, a trade union and industrial action can succeed.
Unite are supporting workers in some of our best known businesses to tackle Fire and Rehire such as Heathrow Airport, British Airways, Go North West, Jacobs Douwe Egberts, Clarks, Argos and Sainsbury’s.
The Government is proud of the flexible market that allows workers to be exploit, but I am proud of the history and tradition of these brands, which are now being sacrificed to the interests of greed and private equity.
I quote the comments of Trevor Stephens, Clarks Warehouse operative, a business founded by Quaker Cyrus Clark, he said:
“There once was a time where Clarks built schools, libraries and theatres for their workers and their families in Somerset. Cyrus and James Clark, who opened the first ever Clarks in 1825, were proud of their local community and saw it as their responsibility to give back. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Clarks helped build my town, and my town helped build Clarks.”
This shared interest between business and community, still exists, we will all have examples of local businesses which remain at the heart of the community, giving back.
Our community will never forget the actions of Independent Retailers and family run businesses like Calverts.
During our darkest hour, the year long Miners Strike, Calverts stood by the community, and deferred payments for good until miners returned to work.
They have extraordinary customer service, always going above and beyond. Their loyalty to the community is replicate and they remain one of the few independent electronic stores open today.
They were not alone, but they are one of the notable examples.
These are good businesses that often get a rough deal from government and large multi-nationals.
They employ local people, pay more than their fair share in tax and remain on our high street giving back to our, to their, community.
However, the independent retailer, local bookshops, a family run cloth shop, cafes and coffee shops are being run off our high street, and closed down, unable to compete with global giants like Amazon, Waterstones, the Acadia Group, and Starbucks, who not content with the advantage from the economies of scale, but seek to exploit tax loop holes which allow them to drive up profits, push down costs, and close down small businesses unable to compete in the unfair market.
Is it any wonder our high streets and independent retailers are disappearing, when we have a government intent on tilting the playing field in favour of the richest and most powerful businesses in the world?
We need a government committed to the millions of workers, small and family businesses, and our communities rather than multi-million international corporations that exploit our people.
The only way to stop bad business practice is through legislation.
Fire and Rehire is abhorrent, and whether it continues in the UK is a political choice for the Conservative Government.
These bully boy tactics are already banned in Ireland, Spain and France.
A poll published by the TUC revealed that nearly one in 10 workers have been told to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions since the first lockdown.
In the same poll nearly a fifth of 18-24 year-olds say their employer has tried to rehire them on inferior terms during the pandemic.
This Bill is about more than protecting people in the workplace, it is about protecting the living stands and lives of people already struggling to make ends meet in an unfair economy created by a Conservative Government eroding employment rights.
Our economic model is broken, and no amount of bluster from the Prime Minister about creating a high wage economy will make a difference to the lives of our constituents unless the Conservative Government start supporting policies to improve workers right rather than eroding them.