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Manchester bus drivers: No to ‘fire and re-hire’

485 bus drivers in Manchester are under threat of fire and rehire from Go North West who are looking to enforce a cut in the number of drivers, longer hours for the same money and cuts in their sick policy.

The drivers have now voted by 82% for industrial action, on a 77% turnout, and a strike will begin in the next few weeks unless the company back down.

Threats from Go North West
The company claim to be in financial difficulties and the union had entered into negotiations on terms and conditions.  Go North West originally threatened the fire and rehire last September but the threat of strike action brought the company back to the table. Now the threat has resurfaced. Any drivers who have not signed the new contract have received letters which say that if they do not sign then ““Go North West is issuing you with notice of the termination of your employment, which shall end on 8 May 2021”. Then just for good measure the company gave them just 8 days to sign, or the “offer”, more correctly threat, would be withdrawn.

What is ‘fire and rehire’?
In law it is quite difficult for any company to alter the contract of employment without agreement, either explicit, or at least by acquiescence. But unfortunately the law is quite open to fire and rehire. What happens is that the company dismisses its workers for “good business reasons”, which counts as a potentially fair reason for dismissal under ‘Some Other Substantial Reason’. They then immediately offer them new contracts of employment which are similar enough to count as ‘Suitable Alternative Employment’. A worker who refuses will find themselves without a job, AND without a redundancy payment either. As long as the company follows the law by issuing notice under Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act they will be immune from legal action.

The law…and its flaws
The whole practice goes against even the capitalist idea of a contract being a binding agreement reached by two equal parties and should have been made illegal years ago by a Labour government. The fact that it survives into modern employment law is because of the lingering influence of the feudal Masters and Servants Act which treated the two parties as fundamentally unequal because in those days employees tended to be servants who were part of their ‘master’s’ household. In law they were treated as dependents just like wife and children. At the same time this same law constrains the workers’ rights to industrial action with a great many legal complications and restrictions.

Strike action the only answer
So there is no help to be expected from the law which still treats working people as fundamentally of lower status than their employers. The only answer is industrial action, or the threat of it. This was shown the first time this disgusting practice surfaced in recent times which was in 2010 when London Fire Brigade attempted to dismiss their entire front- line workforce to impose new and worse shift patterns.  The FBU fought off London Fire Brigade’s aggressive tactics but it took several days of strike action, pickets of fire stations – during which two FBU members were run over by scabs, and a mass march of 2,500 uniformed fire fighters took place. This was the strike where it emerged that LFB had sold the entire fleet of appliances off to a company called AssetCo and then leased them back.

What is in store
These bullying tactics show that the unions are entering new territory as employers get ready for what the Bank of England predicts will be the biggest recession since the Great Frost of 1709. Fire and rehire will be repeated in company after company. As the Covid Bus Service Support Grant comes to an end, there are likely to be further attacks across the industry on jobs and conditions, already witnessed in Bradford, with attempts to fire and rehire on a mass scale. First Buses Bradford backed down after an 85% vote in favour of strike action.

Solidarity
Fire and rehire can be stopped, but only by determined and militant action. The drivers need our solidarity in whatever they decide to do. Send messages of support from individuals, union branches. Trades Councils, CLPs to colin.hayden@unitetheunion.org

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