New research reveals that, during the pandemic, many employees have been subject to “fire and rehire” tactics. This entails workers being asked to re-apply for their current position but accepting worse conditions. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted many employees to become the victims of “fire and rehire” tactics, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) finds in new research.

Since the first lockdown in March, almost one in 10 workers (9 per cent) have been asked to re-apply for their current job but on worse conditions. This comes after engineers from companies such as British Gas have been striking for the eighth day in a row after being subject to “fire and rehire” policies, which would leave workers with a 15 per cent pay cut.

In specific, the TUC found that certain groups were more targeted than others when it came to “firing and rehiring”.

Almost a fifth of young workers (18 per cent) aged between 18 and 24 stated that their employer had tried to re-hire them on inferior terms during the pandemic.

Additionally, people from a working class background (12 per cent) were also almost twice as likely to be subject to this practice than workers from higher socio-economic groups (7 per cent).

The same was found for BME workers (Black, Minority Ethnic). These employees were told to apply for their job under worse terms (15 per cent) and conditions at around twice the rate that white workers were (8 per cent).

Overall, around a quarter of workers in the UK (24 per cent) have experienced a downgrading of their terms during the COVID-19 pandemic whether that be through changes to work hours or reduced pay.

Again, this was more common amongst younger and low-paid workers. Over a third of young workers (34 per cent) reported their terms at work deteriorating since the start of the pandemic. Three in 10 (30 per cent) of low-paid workers stated the same*.

In 2019,  the Government stated that it would introduce legislation to improve people’s rights at work but no such Bill has been put forward yet.

This is particularly relevant in light of the announcement made by the Business Secretary who stated that a review of EU labour laws is currently underway but denied having an intention to lower the standard of working rights in the UK.

Frances O’Grady, TUC General Secretary, said:

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work. Forcing people to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions is plain wrong.    Fire and re-hire tactics have no place in modern Britain and must be outlawed.

Boris Johnson promised to make the UK the best place in the world to work in. It’s high time he delivered on this promise.  That means fast-tracking his much-delayed employment bill. And it means abandoning any attempt to water down hard-won workers’ rights from the EU.

Sarah Evans, Partner at Constantine Law, said:

Firing and rehiring practices risk claims for unfair dismissal and breach of contract if correct dismissal or consultation procedures are not followed. Employees with less than 2 years’ service or on insecure (zero hours or agency workers)  service terms, or workers, are less well protected from dismissal, but they are not completely unprotected as to pay and conditions.

In desperate economic times where workers may not have the luxury of turning down a job, albeit on worse conditions, HR may be storing up trouble in the form of a workforce that feels no trust or loyalty towards its employer. Communication remains king: early provision of information about the business needs (are changes temporary or to avoid a restructure or redundancies), listening to staff or offering alternative incentives may avoid using the practice.  Above all, be honest with your workers: they are in desperate times too.

To obtain this data, BritainThinks conducted an online survey of 2,231 workers in England and Wales between 19th November – 29thNovember 2020. All respondents were either in work, on furlough, or recently made redundant. *Low-paid workers were defined as workers who earned less than £15,000 a year.