Labour councillors call Conservatives' rejection of motion against Fire and Rehire practices 'a tragedy'

Labour councillors on Cherwell District Council have described Tory rejection of a motion against the controversial 'fire and rehire' practice as a tragedy.

By Roseanne Edwards
Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 4:15 pm
Updated Tuesday, 20th July 2021, 4:16 pm
Cllr Barry Richards whose motion on Fire and Rehire fell at Cherwell District Council on Monday
Cllr Barry Richards whose motion on Fire and Rehire fell at Cherwell District Council on Monday

Cllr Barry Richards brought a motion to the council on Monday evening asking members to urge three MPs covering Cherwell district, including Banbury's Victoria Prentis, to give Parliamentary support to Labour MP Barry Gardiner's Private Member's Bill which would outlaw the Fire and Rehire practice being used by coffee giant JDE to change Banbury employees' contracts to reduce costs.

Mr Gardiner's Bill was launched outside the JDE factory on June 14.

Mr Richards' motion also asked the council to agree not to buy goods or services from companies using Fire and Rehire - which he called an 'unscrupulous practice'.

Labour MP Barry Gardiner, who launched his Private Member's Bill against Fire and Rehire at a Unite the Union demonstration outside the JDE coffee factory

The motion fell 13 to 19 because all Conservative members present voted against it, even though Conservatives on Banbury Town Council had supported a similar motion on June 22. Cllr Nick Mawer for Bicester North and Caversfield, left the meeting as the vote started.

Mr Richards said: "When I introduced this motion, I asked the leader of the council whether he or his group would like to second it because I genuinely felt there should be cross party support on the issue of fire and rehire. Unfortunately, the leader declined, which I think is a tragedy."

He quoted former Banbury MP Sir Tony Baldry who said fire and rehire 'should not happen to any Banbarian' and also town council leader Keiron Mallon (who was not at the debate) who, he said, had urged current MP, Victoria Prentis to support the Bill through Parliament.

Cllr Ian Middleton (Green) said he was 'flabbergasted' the motion had not been cross-party. He questioned whether the Conservative Party felt it should support employers rather than workers.

"As a former, relatively large employer myself, I can attest that staff are your greatest asset. We've also got other practices such as the sort of phoney self employment contracts and zero hours contracts. All of these things start from a position of saying that we are, as employers, in opposition to staff and that's a very outdated way of looking at these things," he said.

Leader of the council, Cllr Barry Wood (Conservative) said he had a strong connection with the trades union movement and respected the role they play in industrial relations.

"I believe strongly that negotiation is the way to solve industrial disputes and that they should be done on a open (and) honest basis. I also believe the position of employers in disputes needs to be respected and these things are a two way process, and that we, here, have to have regard for their ability to protect their position. Private member's bills rarely make the statute book. There is a prospect that this one, with amendments, could do and I encourage the movers of the bill to engage with the Government, so it can take into account the existing legislation."

Cllr Cassi Perri (Lab) said use of fire and rehire was a 'really distressing and upsetting trend' by companies that have made record profits during the pandemic.

"Times are tough and businesses need the freedom to keep going and stay viable. But it's not businesses that are struggling that are bringing forward fire and rehire. It is companies making record profits. It is exploitative, opportunistic and unethical. That we would continue to buy services as a council from companies doing this undermines any attempt to portray ourselves as ethical employers or procurement agents," she said.

Cllr Perran Moon (Lab) said: "Fire and rehire is just wrong. I would like to ask Conservative members, some of whom I suspect might be feeling pretty queasy about supporting voting against this motion, to put your hand up and support us because there's absolutely no way you can go back to your constituents and say to them you did the right thing by failing to pass this motion. That would have sent out a very clear message on fire and rehire."