A further 2,000 contract workers face being sacked after joining unofficial strike action in support of the Lindsey oil refinery workers, lawyers have warned.
Guy Lamb, employment partner at DLA Piper, told Personnel Today employers were within their rights to sack any employees who took part in unofficial strikes.
He said: “If the strike action is unauthorised, employees are on their own and their employers can dismiss them.
“In this situation the law gives employers a lot of latitude. All the normal protections the law gives to strikers don’t apply if they are taking unofficial strike action.”
Total has told the 900 sacked workers they have until Monday next week to reapply for their jobs, but Lamb warned the employer could use this opportunity to selectively re-hire only the best staff and rewrite contracts, changing their pay and their terms and conditions of work.
“The employer does not have to offer the workers the same terms and conditions if they are re-employed,” he said. “They could offer them less pay.”
David Yeandle, head of employment policy at the manufacturing body EEF, added the decision taken by Total demonstrated employers’ tough stance against unofficial strikers.
He said: “[The action taken by Total] would appear to be a sign that unofficial action is not something that employers are willing to put up with.
“Sacking unofficial strikers is certainly something companies will do again in the future. It’s not unusual for that to happen when it’s unofficial action. It’s a threat employers can use to bring sanity back into employee relations.”
David Coates, associate director of think-tank the Work Foundation, previously told Personnel Today dwindling union membership would lead to an increase in unofficial strike action.
And Andrea Broughton, principle research fellow at the Institute for Employment Studies, said the sacking of the contractors would not put other strikers off.
She said: “If the issue in question is something they feel strongly about, they will still strike. If it’s an issue like job losses, I suppose employees won’t be bothered about losing their jobs anyway, because that is already in question.”