A Welsh Conservative MP last night defended controversial ‘fire and rehire’ tactics which have sparked a major industrial dispute at British Gas.
Delyn MP Bob Roberts said the practice, which sees companies sack workers in order to re-employ them with worse pay and conditions, was “part of an inherent flexibility that has to exist in the workplace”.
His comment came during a House of Commons debate on an opposition motion calling on the UK Government to outlaw the use of ‘fire and rehire’ by firms seeking to cut costs.
Around 7,500 British Gas engineers are currently in their second week of strike action over an attempt to impose new contracts which would see their pay cut by 15% despite its parent company, Centrica, making a £901 million profit in 2019.
“If I stay with the company, the new contracts will result in me losing out on around £10k-£12k annually,” one Welsh engineer with ten years’ service for British Gas told the Voice Wales website.
Labour MP for Cardiff South and Penarth, Stephen Doughty, revealed during last night’s debate that the chief executive of British Gas has personally called workers in his constituency “to put pressure on them to accept new, worse terms”.
The tactic has become “widespread” during the pandemic, according to a poll released yesterday by the TUC which found one in ten workers have been told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms.
Labour MP for Cynon Valley, Beth Winter, blasted the “bullying tactics used to try to force workers to accept reduced terms and conditions.”
But Roberts said: “It is correct that things such as fire and rehire are challenging, but they are part of an inherent flexibility that has to exist in the workplace but must be used responsibly.
“The Government have engaged [reconciliation service] ACAS to provide evidence and report on the situation, and I am confident that it will be properly dealt with.”
His view clashed with the Government’s official position. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said “we regard fire and rehire as unacceptable” in a response to a question on the strike from Cardiff North MP Anna McMorrin last week.
Business Secretary Kwarsi Kwarteng condemned the tactic again last night but stopped short of pledging to outlaw it, saying the Government will “fully consider” evidence to be submitted next month by ACAS.
Labour’s non-binding motion calling on the UK Government to “set out to Parliament by the end of January 2021 a timetable to introduce legislation to end fire and re-hire tactics” was passed because Conservative MPs abstained en-masse in an effort to avoid a repeat of the public outcry over their decision to vote against a similar motion on free school meals.