• Workers’ rights are once again under the spotlight as Acas reports on “fire and rehire” practices.
• Government will not currently legislate against the so called “bully-boy” fire and rehire tactics but is setting up a new workers’ rights watchdog.
• The as yet unnamed watchdog will combine three existing regulatory bodies to crack down on workers’ rights abuses.
Fire and rehire refers to a practice where employers having been unable to get agreement through consultation, terminate the contracts of employees with a view to immediately offering them a new contract on less favourable or different terms. With suggestions that the practice has become more prevalent during the pandemic, the government commissioned Acas to prepare a report. Níamh Kelly from The HR Dept Shropshire is here to bring local employers up to speed on this and related issues.
Níamh explains: “Acas’s brief was to complete an independent fact finding mission on fire and rehire, making no recommendations. They found that while it was not a new practice, it did appear anecdotally to have become more common in recent years. Triggers include the desire to avoid or minimise redundancies, and to change terms and conditions.
“A recent high profile example is that of Clarks shoes who are asking more than 100 warehouse staff to accept a new contract on reduced terms. The staff are considering strike action.
“The business minister has recognised the practice in general as “bully-boy tactics” but indicated the government is not in a rush to legislate specifically against it. They have, however, asked Acas to prepare clear guidelines about when fire and rehire may be used.
“With many businesses forced to take difficult decisions during the pandemic, it is always best to seek professional advice when doing something with such far-reaching consequences for both the business and your staff.
“Shropshire employers should be aware that the government is preparing to clamp down on enforcement in other areas of workers’ rights, though. Of course, by far the majority of businesses do want to treat workers respectfully and in compliance with the law, but there are always a few who will cross the line – whether inadvertently or deliberately.
“Going for these, the government plans to merge three bodies - the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate and HM Revenue & Customs’ national minimum wage enforcement team - into a single watchdog guarding employment rights.
“The new regulatory body’s scope will include ensuring workers receive holiday and sick pay they are entitled to without resorting to an employment tribunal; as well as protecting agency workers, enforcing minimum wage compliance and fighting against modern slavery.
“While it is not formed yet, one would imagine the new agency will be far more coordinated across the broad workers’ rights remit as well as more streamlined. If you are unsure if your employment practices meet minimum standards, now would be a good time to get them reviewed.