The Unite union has warned Royal Mail that it could face strikes over plans to cut managers’ jobs in what it claims is a ‘fire and rehire’ scheme.
Unite claimed the company was aiming to sack nearly 1,000 managers and introduce lower rates of pay in a further case of fire and rehire, which Royal Mail denies.
The union is planning an industrial action ballot, which could see strikes from late April.
The Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Royal Mail has no excuse for announcing these job cuts, especially at the same time as ‘new’ bands on lower pay. That is just fire and rehire.
“Our members are determined to prevent this destruction and they have the full backing of their union every step of the way.”
A Royal Mail spokesperson said: “We are disappointed Unite is preparing to ballot its members. The consultation on this restructure has been progressing well over the last two months. We are now moving the consultation to the next phase so we are unsure why Unite has decided to seek a ballot at this time.”
“The proposals are designed to simplify and streamline our operational structures to ensure an improved focus on local performance, and devolve more accountability and flexibility to frontline operational managers.
“We firmly believe this change will deliver a number of benefits for our managers and our customers and will be a significant step forward in the reinvention of Royal Mail.”
Fire and rehire
Meanwhile, workers at a sweet factory in York are fighting a fire and rehire threat from their employer, Valeo Foods.
The plant, which produces Fox’s Glacier Mints and Poppets as well as sweets for supermarkets such as Marks and Spencer, has told employees it will fire them and then rehire them, unless they agree new contracts with reduced holiday and pay.
Union members at the plant went on strike earlier this week over pay and were joined by GMB union members from a nearby Nestlé facility on the picket line, according to the Yorkshire Post.
A spokesperson for Valeo said: “We have engaged in very constructive conversations as part of a routine annual pay review process, however, a very limited number of employees have made the decision to take industrial action. The site will continue to operate as normal.”
The workers have lobbied the city’s council in an attempt to overturn the fire and rehire threat.
The GMB’s branch secretary in York, James Cooper, said: “We’re asking for support to force this company to respect our members’ rights not change their terms and conditions.”
Gary Smith, GMB general secretary, said: “Fire and rehire is a cruel, outdated, Dickensian working practice that should be consigned to the scrapheap of history. We have campaigned for it to be made illegal for years; politicians of all stripes agree with us, as do three-quarters of the public – even the prime minister has condemned it.
“We urgently need clear legislation to outlaw this abhorrent tactic which, unless checked, will continue to wreck lives across the UK.”
Code of practice on its way
Earlier this week (29 March), labour markets minister Paul Scully announced a new statutory code on fire and rehire. The government claimed the code would clamp down on controversial tactics used by unscrupulous employers who failed to engage in meaningful consultations with employees.
Ministers say using fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic is completely unacceptable, but so far the government has rejected two attempts by Labour to outlaw the practice – a bill introduced by Barry Gardiner MP in late 2021 and an emergency motion on 21 March in the immediate wake of the P&O Ferries sackings.
Although politicians have linked the P&O Ferries sackings to fire and rehire, the Commons heard last week from law experts that the practice was irrelevant in that particular case as there had been no consultation or negotiation before the dismissals.
According to the government’s web page on the new policy, the statutory code of practice will “include practical steps that employers should follow”. It says “a court or employment tribunal will take the code into account when considering relevant cases, including unfair dismissal. The courts will have the power to apply an uplift of up to 25% of an employee’s compensation if an employer unreasonably fails to comply with the code where it applies.”
A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesperson told Personnel Today that it couldn’t share details of when the new code would come into practice but was working at speed to bring it into being.