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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

More Fire-and-Rehire

by New Worker correspondent

THE Tory Government recently talked out a Labour MP’s attempt to introduce a Commons Bill that would outlaw fire-and-rehire action by employers despite frequent criticisms from the Tory benches of the practice.

The need for such legislation can be clearly seen in several ongoing disputes. In Northamptonshire, the manufacturers of Weetabix are facing increased industrial action.

About 80 Weetabix engineers have been on strike every Tuesday and Wednesday since September over cuts to their pay, terms and conditions that will see them lose more than £5,000 per year.

From Monday strike action will now double to take place every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. The strike action, which has already closed production lines, has put orders several days behind schedule. Some of the workers have been taking part in their first strike action in 30 years.

Unite’s new general secretary Sharon Graham said: “Weetabix is making bumper profits so there is no justification for these ‘fire-and-rehire’ attacks on our members’ wages and conditions.

“Unite will not accept attacks on our members’ jobs, pay and conditions and Weetabix should expect this dispute to continue escalating until fire and rehire is dropped.”

Some might ask why a union with huge financial muscle is not underwriting an all-out strike by a comparatively small number of workers, which would have a more severe impact. As it stands, Weetabix is managing to keep going with managers replacing workers on some production lines.

Instead Unite is opening a new front in the battle. The union is to mount protests outside supermarkets to raise awareness, amongst shoppers, of Weetabix’s actions.

Weetabix has done very well out of the pandemic. Last year its turnover increased by five per cent to £325 million and profits did better by growing by nearly 20 per cent to £82 million. Its American parent company, Post Holdings Inc, in 2020 had a turnover of £4.2 billion, profits of £518 million and cash reserves of £890 million.

The same union has condemned plans to sack 50 GB Terminals workers at the Sheerness docks in Kent as a “sneaky precursor to fire-and-rehire”. This amounts to a 75 per cent cut, which will render the docks inoperable.

Regional officer Phil Silkstone said: “We know there is enough work at Sheerness to keep people on and GB Terminals has given no reason for these redundancies or indication that is it closing its operations at the docks. That’s why we believe this is a sneaky precursor to fire-and-rehire.

“GB Terminals is running down the clock on the consultation period. We think management will then offer workers the choice of redundancy or signing new contracts on reduced pay, terms and conditions.”

The union accuses GB Terminals of refusing to make reasonable allowances to hold consultative talks, despite Unite offering several dates to do so. A belated meeting will be held this Friday – but that is already halfway through the 30-day period legally required for redundancy consultations.

The Sheerness Terminal is responsible for moving new Volkswagen Group vehicles (which also includes Audi, Porsche and Skoda models) off ferries arriving in Sheerness so they are parked ready to be picked up by car transporters.

Phil Silkstone added that: “Unite is well aware of the issues businesses in the auto sector and its supply chain are facing and decent employers are working with the union to mitigate them without targeting staff. Unfortunately, it seems that GB Terminals is looking for an opportunity to boost its not inconsiderable coffers by going after its own workforce, something Unite will not stand for.”