The impact on Covid-19 for Britain’s workforce is going to be felt for many years to come yet the scandal of fire and rehire has already started to hurt one in ten British workers. This is only set to rise once the period of furlough ends with many families facing further job insecurity after months of hardship in lockdown. It is only right therefore that the Labour and trade union movement, including many MPs, have attacked this practice from the front- supporting workers who are at the centre of this battle to have job security on decent terms.
The largest strike was led by GMB after disputes with British Gas who were offering workers the choice between having their terms and conditions downgraded or losing their job mid-pandemic. GMB rightly led their members on multiple days of striking across this year after 89% of their members supported the move.
However, despite being the recognised independent trade union for British Gas, workers have been left dumbfounded as Unite the union have seemingly gone over members’ heads to do a deal with executives. This deal has apparently led to Unite agreeing joint recognition and more facility time with the company in exchange for signing up their members to the contract.
While Unite must only have a very small number of members compared to the GMB, national organiser Hazel Nolan rightly called out the former’s behaviour, saying: “as a trade union you literally can’t sink any lower”.
The Bridlington principles were agreed over eighty years ago, whereby unions should not look to poach members in each other’s workplaces. The principles rest on the idea that trade unionists should be focused on the common cause of protecting workers rather than rivalries or gain for any one union. By simply looking to boost their own credentials in a workplace, Unite have flown in the face of that.
And this behaviour by Unite matters now more than ever. After ten years of political interference within the Labour party, attacks on parliamentarians and hard-left posturing that contributed to our worst defeat since 1935, members have a chance to elect new leadership within Unite.
It might be strategically smart for Unite to use the scandal of fire and rehire as a way to deflect away from their own union’s troubles, not least the Birmingham hotel which at a price of £98m, is costing nearly £100 per Unite member. The Unite leadership, including general secretary candidate, Howard Beckett, have made sure to talk the talk on fire and rehire. But members expect their union to back up their words with action, supporting those workers who face uncertainty across the trade union movement, whether they are the union leading the charge or not. Unite must stand up for core union principles of solidarity as were set out in Bridlington in 1939.