John McDonnell MP
I want briefly to outline some of the implications of fire and rehire in its latest use for individuals, families and communities. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Kate Osborne), who has been an asset to her constituency and the House since she was elected.
The latest wave of fire and rehire, which is not a new phenomenon, started in my constituency at Heathrow through the activities of British Airways and Heathrow Airport Ltd. Both companies saw the pandemic as an opportunity to implement their long-held strategy of cutting wages and undermining working conditions and terms of employment. The wages and the terms of employment were fought for over generations by trade unions to ensure that people got a decent wage and were treated properly at work. That is all people wanted.
The reaction to the attempt to cut wages on such a scale and to tear up employment agreements was, first, absolute anger. The frustration among the workers at Heathrow was palpable. The staff were so loyal. They were proud to work for British Airways, the national carrier, and many had worked there for decades. Whole families depend on the airport, working for either BA or Heathrow Ltd. They faced wage cuts, even though house prices and rents in my area are so high, and were under real stress, and they were looking at whether they could maintain their livelihood and keep a decent roof over their head.
That stress has brought about almost a mental health crisis in our community. There is real resentment because those companies have made vast profits and taken furlough money from the Government, and they were simply using a short-term crisis to impose long-term pay cuts. Owing to the resolution of my community, individual workers, Unite the Union and others, we fought back and have settled as best we can to protect people, but the protection can come in the longer term only if the Government act and introduce legislation to ban the practice of fire and rehire once and for all.
Lord Hendy reminded us a couple of days ago that fire and rehire is not a new practice. The general strike was provoked by it when the miners were sacked and brought back to work only if they accepted wage cuts. I warn the Government: if they do not act and change the legislation, there will be more industrial action and more disputes, so they need to act with urgency.