IER Fringe at Unison conference: ‘Mass dismissals: Combatting P&O-style fire and replace tactics’

"A flagrant abuse of employer power, and a sign of how unbalanced workplace power."

24 Jun 2022| News

The legality of fire-and-rehire tactics were scrutinised at an Institute of Employment Rights (IER) fringe event at Unison conference last week. 

As the Morning Star reported, Richard Arthur from Thompsons Solicitors said unilaterally varying terms and conditions “would not reflect well in court cases.”

Mr Arthur explained how P&O’s behaviour was different to fire and rehire, as it was effectively fire and replace.

“If an employer like P&O can save up to break the law, and then say they would do it again, then the fines for breaking redundancy law simply aren’t high enough and should be more punitive,” he added.

Joanne Moorcroft, the Regional Convenor of Unison North West Region, spoke about the P&O Ferries sackings and how P&O planned to bring in agency staff on less than the minimum wage to cover the positions of the sacked workers.

“With a government unwilling to act to revoke licenses to operate, unwilling to force reinstatement of workers, and unwilling to seize the company to force compliance, it was left to trade union power to test their mettle against these disgusting tactics” she said, further adding,

“with no immediate rectification in sight by the government to give workers their jobs back, many of the sacked workers were strong-armed (economically coerced) into signing to agree to be paid less to keep their jobs. A flagrant abuse of employer power, and a sign of how unbalanced workplace power is, in favour of employers if they can break the law and get away with it. Something which we really need to sit back and consider.”

Tony Barnsley, branch secretary in the Unison Sandwell Branch in the West Midlands region, spoke of the recent fire-and-rehire dispute at Sandwell Trust.

“Sandwell councillors offered the trust over £100,000 to make sure that staff pay and conditions were protected, but the trust still decided to implement the cuts” he said. 

The fringe heard contributions from the floor about the impact of the raft of new Tory laws, including the Police, Crime Courts and Sentencing Act, and the proposed Public Order Act.

Each year, the IER attends as many union conferences as possible, to discuss employment rights with delegates, highlight it’s range of booklets and regular publications and host ringe meetings which facilitate debates about the key issues in labour law and industrial relations.