Norwich Labour proposed motion to stop fire and rehire
Norwich Labour proposed motion to stop fire and rehire

At tonight’s meeting of Full Council, Norwich Labour have proposed a meeting to outlaw fire and rehire. This motion – proposed by Cllr Jacob Huntley, and seconded by Cllr Marion Maxwell – was passed unanimously. You can read Cllr Huntley and Cllr Maxwell’s speeches on this item below.

Under fire and rehire practices, companies can sack their workers and offer them the same job back at hugely reduced terms. They have no place in modern Britain.

Stop fire and rehire – Cllr Jacob Huntley proposing speech

In 1889, stokers would frequently work 12 – 18 hour shifts of gruelling, back-breaking labour. When the Gasworkers and General Labourers’ Union were successful in their campaign for eight-hour shifts the South Metropolitan Gas Company promptly spent the staggering amount of £100,000 to smash the union and rescind the eight-hour day. In April 2020, British Gas required its engineers to sign up to new contracts requiring longer working hours – or they would be sacked.

While attacks on the rights of working people in the pursuit of profit clearly aren’t new, this vicious assault on workers is being carried out with determination and glee by bosses who believe they can get away with it while everyone’s attention is elsewhere.

This sleight of hand, euphemised as ‘re-structuring’ or promoted through the sophistry of ‘flexibility’, is either blamed on the consequences of Covid-19 or is smuggled in behind the smokescreen of the pandemic. As Rebecca Long-Bailey has stated in a Tribune article, bosses are ‘unscrupulously exploiting the pandemic as an excuse to drive down the terms and conditions of their workforces.’

This practice has been perpetrated against store-workers by Tesco and Argos; bus drivers by Go West bus company; caterers and cleaners at Ministry of Defence sites; and the entire workforce by coffee manufacturer Jacobs Douwe Egberts.

Sadly, there is little legal protection for workers faced with agreeing to downgraded contracts to avoid unemployment. Fire and re-hire is a crude and crass con-trick, diminishing people’s jobs and livelihoods before their very eyes.

This motion seeks to condemn the practice of fire and re-hire as a pernicious practice. It is an example of the systematic exploitation of working people. And we should not shy away from recognising that the very system itself is one riven with inequality and iniquity.

In Robert Tressell’s classic novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists the character Owen takes a lunch break to explain to his fellow workers what he terms The Great Money Trick. Using squares of bread to illustrate his point he sets up Philpot, Harlow and Easton as the Working Class and steadily shows how the little squares gradually but inexorably accrue to him, as the kindly Capitalist, however much Philpot, Harlow and Easton toil. Quite soon, he has all the crumby capital himself and announces:

‘I’ve paid your wages, and provided you with Plenty of Work for a long time past. I have no more work for you to do at present. Come around again in a few months’ time and I’ll see what I can do for you.’

‘But what about the necessaries of life? [demands Harlow] ‘We must have something to eat.’

‘Of course you must, [replies] the capitalist, affably; ‘and I’ll be very pleased to sell you some.’

It’s a trick that works every time, and always leaves the worker short-changed. It is something the British Gas employees in Norwich know only too well.

Stop fire and rehire – Cllr Marion Maxwell seconder comments

I recently read that research by the TUC, showed that during the pandemic many workers, an estimate of 1 in 10 workers who were laid off were forced to reapply and accept their jobs back on worse terms. The alternative being unemployment, with all the difficulties and delays of signing on, and facing a long wait for what would amount to much less money coming into the household.

Some employers showed no shame in taking back their employees on a nil hours contract, making life even more unsteady. I spoke with someone last week, who had previously been in full time employment as a driver. He was fired then within a week offered a job on a nil hours contract, he told me that it wasn’t unusual, but it was all the work he could get at the moment.

Just one example of the appalling working practices trade unions have worked for years to iron out. Ironically and sadly, I find myself, after working for just over sixty years, again fighting for peoples basic rights to fair treatment at work.

Rebecca Long-Bailey in her article also asked, “How many workplaces are going to stand up and face down this immoral practice. And ultimately, how easy will it be to forge ahead with a far more widespread erosion of worker’s rights.”

Fellow Councillors, I ask you to let Norwich City Council be one of those workplaces that is brave enough stand up and put an end to this vile practice.

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