Covid crisis used as a ‘smokescreen to erode workers’ rights’, Starmer writes
In an article for The Independent, the Labour leader argues that some firms have used the Covid crisis as a “smokescreen to erode workers’ rights” with “unscrupulous bosses” intimidating staff into accepting worse pay and conditions.
Insisting ministers had not “lifted a finger to stop them”, Sir Keir also claimed that the prime minister “habitually underestimates and undervalues the British public”.
His remarks come as MPs prepare to debate a private members’ bill on Friday – put forward by the former Labour frontbencher Barry Gardiner – which seeks to restrict the practice of firing and rehiring staff on worse conditions.
Research by the Trade Union Congress has previously suggested the contentious practice became widespread during the pandemic, with one in five 18-24-year-olds saying their employer had tried to rehire them on inferior terms during the crisis.
The TUC poll also revealed that nearly one in 10 – nine per cent – of workers had also been told to reapply for their jobs on worse conditions since the prime minister ordered the first Covid lockdown in March 2020.
However, the legislation spearheaded by Mr Gardiner is unlikely to become law without the government’s support and reports have suggested that the government has instructed Conservative MPs to vote against the bill at second reading.
Seizing on Mr Johnson’s previous description of the firing and rehiring practice being an “unacceptable negotiating tactic”, Sir Keir said: “So far we have seen nothing but characteristic dither, delay and a litany of excuses. What we never see is a plan, nor action.
“It’s time to even the playing field and stop allowing this awful practice to flourish. That’s why the Labour Party is supporting a private members’ bill, brought by Barry Gardiner, to stamp out fire and rehire.”
In the article, the Labour leader stresses that the bill will give employees new protections, “enabling them to claim automatic unfair dismissal if their employer tries to force them onto a worse contract”.
Claiming there is support from politicians of all stripes against the “unjust and unacceptable” practice, Sir Keir added: “But once again we have only warm words and bluster from Boris Johnson, who is ordering his MPs to vote down the bill – selling out working people in the process.
“We need an overhaul of the system that stops exploitation and bullying and gives working people real security. We can’t go back to business as usual after the pandemic.”