One in 10 workers told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms, TUC reveals

Controversial ‘fire and rehire’ tactics have become widespread during the pandemic, according to the union

Controversial ‘fire and rehire’ tactics have become more common during Covid, a poll of workers has found, with employers increasingly using the technique to force employees on to less beneficial contracts.

A survey by the TUC of 2,231 workers across England and Wales found that since the start of the first lockdown in March, almost one in 10 (9 per cent) had been told to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions or face the sack, with younger and black and ethnic minority workers most affected by the practice.

Nearly a fifth (18 per cent) of 18 to 24-year-olds said their employer had tried to rehire them on inferior terms during the pandemic, while nearly twice the proportion of ethnic minority workers were subjected to fire and rehire tactics compared to their white counterparts (15 and 8 per cent respectively).

Working-class employees were also nearly twice as likely than those from higher socioeconomic groups to have been told to reapply for their jobs under worse terms and conditions (12 and 7 per cent respectively).  

In all, nearly a quarter of workers polled (24 per cent) experienced a downgrading of their terms during the crisis – including through reduced pay or changes to their hours.

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said fire and rehire tactics had “no place in modern Britain and must be outlawed”.

Get more HR and employment law news like this delivered straight to your inbox every day – sign up to People Management’s PM Daily newsletter

“Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect at work,” O’Grady said. “Forcing people to reapply for their jobs on worse terms and conditions is plain wrong.”

Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, agreed that forcing a change to an employment contract by dismissing someone and rehiring on different terms should be “an absolute last resort”. “Employers must consider all alternatives and have done everything possible to try and reach voluntary agreement, and consider whether the proposed changes are completely vital.”

Paul Holcroft, managing director of Croner, explained that while businesses were looking for ways to maintain their workforce on lower running costs, “depending on how employers are putting their ‘fire and rehire’ processes in place, employees may have an argument that they have been unfairly dismissed, so the details would need to be looked at carefully”.

The TUC is calling on the government to fast track a much-delayed employment bill designed to stop employers from dismissing and subsequently re-employing employees to diminish their terms and conditions of employment.

The bill, first announced in the 2019 Queen’s speech and expected to be published this year, is likely to include a raft of protective measures for workers, including the introduction of a single labour market enforcement body to ensure workers are informed of their rights; a new right after 26 weeks of service to request a more predictable and stable contract; and an extension of redundancy protection.

O’Grady said: “Boris Johnson promised to make the UK the best place in the world to work in. It’s high time he delivered on this promise. ”