I have fed concerns received on this issue directly in to Ministerial colleagues, although I know they are aware of how the situation has escalated particularly for British Gas, British Airways and Centrica employees. I understand that Government is urging employers not to use the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme irresponsibly and thereby to make someone redundant on less favourable terms than they would otherwise have received. The Job Retention Scheme was designed first and foremost to protect jobs in these challenging times and any misuse of the scheme would count as a serious breach of employment law.
When looking in to the situation, obviously it is important that employers are able to have the flexibility and ultimate discretion when arranging the terms and conditions of employment, but as both a former business owner myself and current employer, I would expect all other companies to treat their workers fairly and to be given reasonable notice which is why I strongly condemn the use of ‘fire and rehire’ as a negotiating tactic.
I would point out that there is a challenge in Government involvement in these issues as a high percentage of staff have already agreed to the new terms after successful negotiations of over 300 hours with other Unions and this seems to be a disagreement specifically between various unions and those private companies. That said, I was pleased to receive confirmation that in order to better understand the issues in relation to fire and rehire, the Government is working with ACAS,(The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), and bringing together a number of roundtables with businesses, employee representatives and other bodies to discuss the issues in more detail with Ministers. Good constant dialogue also means that Government is kept fully aware of the latest developments across industries and can respond timely with additional policy measures to address any sector specific issues where necessary. I would stress that it is only by working with businesses and employees together that we can foster much better working and employment practices and thus stop unscrupulous practices where they occur. I would therefore assure you that the Government is fully standing behind these employees, whose work the country wouldn’t be able to function without.
Finally, if you feel you are in a position where you haven’t had your full contractual terms and conditions outlined to you properly, or you still feel your employer is using the ‘fire and rehire’ tactic when failing to exhaust all other alternative options, I would advise for you to check your full rights on the Government website – https://www.gov.uk/redundancy-your-rights and then if necessary to contact ACAS. As an MP, I am unable to offer legal advice in terms of commenting further on your contract. ACAS will be able to impartially discuss this issue within the workplace and your employer’s approach. Their helpline is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm and the number is 0300 123 1100.
I would also suggest, if you are aware of your employer breaching any rules around the furlough scheme, to report it to HMRC directly here: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/hm-revenue-customs/contact/report-fraud-to-hmrc
Thank you again for contacting me on this no doubt stressful situation for all those involved. I trust that this response gives you some helpful information, but if you do require anything further, please don’t hesitate to get back in touch. Meanwhile, I will continue to monitor the situation very closely and ensure Government are fully aware of the full weight of the situation for these affected employees and many others.