Labour vows to ban fire and rehire after war of words with unions

Labour vows to ban fire and rehire after war of words with unions

Labour has vowed it will change the law to ban fire and rehire, after a war of words with unions who accused the party of watering down its pledges on workers’ rights.

The plans are revealed in a new leaked dossier, which was sent to trade unions ahead of a crunch meeting with Keir Starmer and contains sweeping plans for an overhaul of workers’ rights including on employment status, protection against unfair dismissal and union representation.

But Unite accused the party of “betrayal” and said it was “unrecognisable” from the original proposals, citing a stark change in language on fire and rehire, zero-hours contracts and plans for legislation. A number of trade union sources said there would be “serious discussions” on the document at a meeting planned with Starmer on Tuesday.

The leaked document cautions that the overhaul will take time to implement, promising a “full and detailed consultation” on a plan to define a single status of “worker” in law, as well as a review of parental leave rights in the first year and saying time was needed to design and implement a fair pay agreement for adult social care.

Labour said the party was “strengthening the proposals to implement our commitments”. New commitments have been added to make sure unions will be able to easily gain recognition in insecure workplaces like Amazon warehouses, and the party pledges to change rules to make it easier to ballot on industrial action.

Key to the criticism from trade unions were changes to the wording of plans to end fire and rehire – removing a direct promise to end the dismissal of workers for rejecting a worse contract.

But Labour sources said it was not their intention to abandon that pledge and said the party would legislate within 100 days with an employment rights bill that would ban the practice.

Fire and rehire is the practice of making an employee redundant and then re-hiring them on worse terms and conditions, often as a way of forcing employees into agreeing to lower pay and bad terms.

In the leaked document, which sets out the latest version of the workers’ rights overhaul, Labour says it will “replace the inadequate statutory code brought in by the government with a strengthened code of practice and reform the law to provide effective remedies against abuse.”

But the document also said it is “important businesses can restructure to remain viable … when there is genuinely no alternative”. The original new deal document launched by Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, said Labour would be “adapting unfair dismissal and redundancy legislation to prevent workers being dismissed for failing to agree a worse contract”.

Labour has strongly denied it has changed its position. “Labour will legislate against fire and rehire and fire and replace through the employment rights bill that we table in parliament within 100 days of entering government,” a spokesperson said.

Unions are also expected to demand clarity on a ban of zero-hours contracts, described in the document as the “right to switch to a contract that reflects the number of hours they regularly work, based on a 12-week reference period”. The original green paper said: “Labour will ban zero-hours contracts and contracts without a minimum number of guaranteed hours.”

A party source said that employers would be required to proactively offer the new contract after 12 weeks. Unite, the Fire Brigades Union and other smaller unions have raised alarm that the loophole could be subject to abuse by rogue employers.

The document also suggests that new rights such as the “right to switch off” will come in the form of best practice models, in contrast to the original text that said “workers will have a new right to disconnect from work outside working hours”.

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Proposed new rights against surveillance at home have also been subtly changed. Originally the party proposed to “introduce new rights to protect workers from remote surveillance”. The document now proposes that any plans be subject to consultation with unions.

Trade union sources said they would go through the document “line by line” with the Labour leader next week. Matt Wrack, the general secretary of the FBU, has previously said scaling back the plan would be “disastrous”.

On Wednesday, Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, said the document received by trade unions outlining the final proposals was a “row back on a row back”, adding: “It is totally unrecognisable from the original proposals produced with the unions. Unrecognisable. Workers will see through this and mark this retreat after retreat as a betrayal.

“This new document is turning what was a real new deal for workers into a charter for bad bosses,” she said. “In truth this new document is not worthy of discussion. All unions must now demand that Labour changes course and puts the original new deal for workers back on the table.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Labour’s new deal for working people is a core part of our mission to grow Britain’s economy and raise living standards across the country. A Labour government will need to hit the ground running and that is why we have been strengthening the proposals to implement our commitments.

“If elected we will bring forward legislation within 100 days of entering government”

The document commits to giving workers day one rights to sick pay and parental leave, as well as protection against unfair dismissal, introducing carers and bereavement leave, and changing minimum wage rules so it now reflects the average cost of living.

The document says the party will give all workers, including those in insecure work, the right to unionise and update trade union legislation to remove “unnecessary restrictions” and allow electronic balloting for strike action. It will also create a single enforcement watchdog and ease access to employment tribunals.