Burnham-On-Sea’s MP has given his reaction to a protest being held outside his parliamentary office in Wells over the practice of ‘fire and rehire’.
Trade union Unite organised the protest as part of a national day of action to raise awareness of its campaign to end the ability for local employers to use ‘fire and rehire’.
The union’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, says the practice, in which employers sack their workers only to rehire them on lower pay and worse conditions, as “an abhorrence” and “one of the scandals of our age”.
Unite members around the country have gathered outside the offices of 30 Conservative MPs over the past week, including the office for Burnham-On-Sea and Highbridge MP James Heappey. It comes after shoemaker Clarks has been accused of using the practice.
MP James Heappey says: “I certainly understand the strength of feeling around this issue and will follow the progress of the Private Members’ Bill.”
“However, ultimately, terms and conditions of employment are a matter for employers and employees. Employers have the flexibility to arrange conditions of employment and should behave responsibly.”
The MP adds: “The right to protest is – of course – also extremely important and I am pleased to say the one outside my office was peaceful and respectful as I always want to ensure my staff are safe when working.”
“I have previously been in touch with employers on behalf of constituents with concerns – and would be happy to make representations, should they like me to.”
Unite is supporting Barry Gardiner MP’s Private Members Bill to challenge Fire and Rehire and is calling on MPs of all parties to back it. The Bill is due its second reading on 22nd October under the title of Employment and Trade Union Rights Bill.
It comes as Union members at Clarks distribution centre in Street – who include several from the Burnham-On-Sea area – have voted to go on strike over the controversial ‘fire and rehire’ practice and a walkout is being planned on October 4th.
A Clarks spokesperson said: “At our Westway Distribution Centre we continue to consult with employees on proposed changes to employment terms and conditions for all Operatives.”
“It is crucial that Clarks achieves sustainable employment costs, but it is equally fundamental that it achieves fairness between its Distribution Operatives, where differences in hourly rates of pay currently exist. As the consultation process is ongoing, we are disappointed that some employees have voted in favour of industrial action.”
“Right from the start, Clarks has taken a constructive and collaborative approach, seeking to reach a compromise and avoid the need to terminate contracts on current terms and offer re-engagement on new terms, which the company has always regarded as the very last resort.”
“We remain hopeful for a constructive conclusion in due course, based on the significant concessions Clarks has made in respect of its proposal of new terms. We can also confirm that the company has contingency plans in place that aim to minimize the impact to our customers as a result of this action.”
Pictured: The protest underway at the MP’s parliamentary office in Wells over the practice of ‘fire and rehire’ (Photos David Pearce)