One in five employers has changed employee contracts since the start of the pandemic, according to the CIPD.
The HR industry body found that 22% of organisations had altered terms and conditions between March 2020 and July 2021, despite concerns over so-called ‘fire and rehire’ practices.
The most common changes to terms were location of work (49%), hours of work (47%) and pay levels (44%). Just over a fifth made changes to redundancy terms and pay (22%).
Some made positive changes to contracts, such as changing access to enhanced benefits (20%). Half included an improved pay offer in the contract, while 38% reduced pay.
Forty-four per cent of employers polled by the CIPD reduced working hours, while 24% increased them.
A small minority of 3%, but one that covers an estimated 43,000 employees, dismissed staff and rehired them on the new terms – the practice of fire and rehire. Just under a fifth changed terms through consultation and voluntary agreement.
Fire and rehire
Unions and MPs called for fire and rehire practices to be outlawed in May, after a poll by the union Unite found that 70% of the public want this to be made illegal.
Workers angry at the practice have conducted or threatened industrial action. Most recently workers at Weetabix factories announced a series of two-day strikes over proposals that would leave them £5,000 a year worse off.
Ben Willmott, head of public policy, said it was not surprising that employers had made contractual changes in the past 18 months, given the upheaval to working location and practices thrown up by the pandemic.
“A large majority of changes to workers’ contractual terms and conditions were achieved through consultation and agreement; however a minority of organisations did resort to using ‘fire and rehire’ practices,” he said.
“While our research shows this is not a widespread tactic, more progress can still be made in avoiding this practice which creates a high risk of legal claims, reputational damage and an adverse effect on employee relations. ‘Fire and rehire’ should only be undertaken after extensive consultation and all other alternatives have been considered.”
The CIPD has produced new guidance to support employers in making changes to terms and conditions, recommending organisations use consultation and voluntary agreement rather than imposing terms.
It reiterates the view that fire and rehire practices should “only ever be considered as an absolute last resort if changes to employment contracts are critical and voluntary agreement is not possible.