Fire and Rehire: Ban

Oral Answers to Questions — Economy – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 3:15 pm on 28th June 2021.

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Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance 3:15 pm, 28th June 2021

T2. Mr Carroll asked the Minister for the Economy whether he has any plans to introduce legislation to ban the so-called fire and rehire practice, which became widespread during the pandemic and through which companies dismiss staff only to re-employ them on worse terms and conditions. (AQT 1482/17-22)

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for his question. I make it absolutely clear that fire and rehire should not be used as a negotiation tactic. Using fire and rehire as a tactic to put undue pressure on workers to accept new and often worse terms and conditions or face losing their job is totally unacceptable. The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) published a report on the practice of dismissal and re-engagement, known as "fire and rehire", on 8 June 2021. The views expressed in that report are wide-ranging. For some, it is never acceptable, while, for others, in its most legitimate form, fire and rehire allows employers to avoid redundancies and business failure after negotiations have been exhausted. I warn employers that dismissal and rehire should be used only where there is a risk to their business. Even in those circumstances, employers must follow a statutory minimum dismissal procedure. They may have to follow a collective redundancy consultation process if a group of employees is involved.

That having been said, I am conscious that potential measures to address the worst excesses of fire and rehire, including legislation, must be carefully considered to ensure that there are no unintended consequences, particularly where measures could lead to more redundancies. My officials will continue to liaise with their counterparts in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) on the matter.

This is not a new thing. I remember the practice being in play when I was in the electrical trade in the early 1990s. It meant that people did not build up rights while working for the same company. The two-year threshold for longevity of employment was rarely met. It is therefore important that we get this right and that workers be afforded the opportunities that they need to bring stability to their employment, because that will affect other things, such as a mortgage and everything that goes with that.

Photo of Gerry Carroll Gerry Carroll People Before Profit Alliance

I thank the Minister for his answer. I welcome his comment that it should not be used as a tactic, but it should not be used at all. A survey from the GMB union found that 76% of people surveyed were opposed to the action and would support legislation to ban it. Unions such as Unite the Union — the Minister might be a former member of it — and many others are calling for legislation to address that disgraceful practice, which treats workers like dirt. Legislation is progressing through Westminster at the minute. Does the Minister agree that it would be wholly unacceptable if there was a divergence on the matter, and, if legislation to outlaw it is passed in Great Britain, will he move swiftly to introduce similar legislation here?

Photo of Paul Frew Paul Frew DUP

I thank the Member for his supplementary question. The practice of dismissal and re-engagement — fire and rehire — has received widespread attention during the COVID pandemic, particularly in GB. A number of big businesses have been named in media reports. In January this year, the TUC published research that suggested that as many as one in 10 workers had been told, during lockdown last year, to reapply for their job on worse terms and conditions or face the sack. That is unacceptable, when we know the scale of the support that the Government have given to businesses over the last year. There is no excuse for that, so I am totally in sympathy. I want to get the situation resolved, so that workers who are in a vulnerable position in that regard get the employment protections and safeguards that they deserve.