Elon Musk’s widespread staff cuts at Twitter have drawn strong criticism from both the tech industry and the global labour movement alike. Some have described Musk’s actions as a “digital P&O’, drawing comparisons to the axing of 800 P&O workers early this year, action that was seen as a nadir for employment rights in the UK.
Musk fired about half of the company’s 7,500-strong workforce last Friday, having bought it for $44bn (£38.7bn) the previous week.
Musk said Twitter had been hit by a pause in spending from advertisers that had caused “a massive drop in revenue”. Twitter makes most of its more than $5bn in annual revenue from advertising.
At the same time, the swingeing cut’s have highlighted the precarious nature of employment in the sector, with Facebook-owner Meta also planning to shed 11,000 jobs. It has also focused attention of organising initiatives in the tech sector. Emiliano Mellino of the Week in Work website, described the situation thus:
“The ease with which Elon Musk is pushing forward with his mass redundancy plan at Twitter has turned people’s attention to the precarity of jobs in the tech sector that had typically been thought of as prestigious. But as employees of the social media company wade through collective redundancy consultations, workers at two other technology companies are taking steps towards making their jobs more secure.
In Glasgow, Apple Store workers have become the first UK employees of the company to secure union recognition, while Monzo staff announced last week they were planning on taking similar steps. With some rare exceptions, tech has been a sector that has been mostly absent from the recent strike wave, but these initial steps towards unionisation suggest this could change.”
The Guardian reported that the social media firm set a three day deadline for workers to name person to represent them at job consultations amid the layoffs.
Elon Musk’s first email to staff, which he used to scrap the company’s work-from-home policy, was also published online:
Sorry that this is my first email to the whole company, but there is no way to sugarcoat the message.
Frankly, the economic picture ahead is dire, especially for a company like ours that is so dependent on advertising in a challenging economic climate. Moreover, 70% of our advertising is brand, rather than specific performance, which makes us doubly vulnerable!
That is why the priority over the past ten days has been to develop and launch Twitter Blue Verified subscriptions (huge props to the team!). Without significant subscription revenue, there is a good chance Twitter will not survive the upcoming economic downturn. We need roughly half of our revenue to be subscription.
Of course, we will still then be significantly reliant on advertising, so I am spending time with our sales & partnerships teams to ensure that Twitter continues to be appealing to advertisers.
The road ahead is arduous and will require intense work to succeed. We are also changing Twitter policy such that remote work is no longer allowed, unless you have a specific exception. Managers will send the exceptions lists to me for review an approval.
Starting tomorrow (Thursday), everyone is required to be in the office for a minimum of 40 hours per week. Obviously, if you are physically unable to travel to an office or have a critical personal obligation, then your absence is understandable.
I look forward to working with you to take Twitter to a whole new level. The potential is truly incredible!
Trade union Prospect, who represent thousands of workers in the tech sector, responded to media reports that Twitter is making thousands of workers redundant by email.
Mike Clancy, General Secretary of Prospect, said:
“Twitter is treating its people appallingly. These are people who have invested their time, effort and enthusiasm in building the platform, which risks being thrown away. The government must make clear to Twitter’s new owners that we won’t accept a digital P&O and that no-one is above the law in the UK, including Big Tech barons. That must include making sure UK staff’s full employment rights are properly protected.”
Simon Deakin, a professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, said if 100 or more employees are sacked within a period of 90 days, the Business Secretary must be notified 45 days before the first dismissal. Where there are more than 20 but fewer than 100 potential losses, the period is 30 days.
Professor Deakin said:
“If there’s no effective notice given here then there could be a fine, so the employer or director could be fined. And the fine currently doesn’t have a limit and it’s a criminal offence. If they are making 100 workers redundant then there’s a possibility of a criminal offence being committed, we don’t know the full story, what is the establishment and maybe they have given notice.
If a criminal offence has been committed then there would be a prosecution organised by the insolvency service and that could lead to criminal liability either for the company or conceivably for a manager or director.”