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Confectionery workers at Valeo confectionery in Low Poppleton, York, who make Fox’s Glacier Mints, Mint Humbugs and Poppets, launched strike action against the company’s decision to fire and rehire them on worse pay and conditions. The action by management follows in the footsteps of the recent controversial decision taken by P&O Ferries when 800 staff were instantly made redundant and replaced with agency workers at much lower rates of pay and conditions. According to their union the GMB, the sweet makers have been told they will be fired and re-hired unless they agree to a new contract which reduces their holidays and pay. In response they are staging daily two-hour walkouts. They have also lobbied the city council in an effort to end the company’s ‘fire and rehire’ threat, as industrial action continues at the factory.

GMB organiser Katherine Mitchell  said: “Fire and rehire is an outdated abhorrent practice that should be made illegal. It’s never acceptable.

“Valeo bosses are trying to impose a real-terms pay cut on these loyal workers in the midst of the worst cost-of-living crisis in a generation.

“During the strikes, managers haven’t allowed striking workers to use canteen or toilet facilities and called the police on a lawful picket.

“We’re here to say enough is enough: support your workers instead of trying to bully them into submission.”

A Valeo Foods statement said: “We have engaged in a very constructive conversation with our colleagues as part of a routine annual pay review process, however a very limited number of employees have made the decision to take industrial action.

“The site will continue to operate as normal.”

For decades workers’ rights have been eroded and the increasing use by predatory bosses of fire and rehire tactics is seen to be the inevitable outcome. Fire and rehire is not a new phenomenon, with high-profile cases involving major employers, such as British Gas, British Airways, and Weetabix

Last October the government voted down a the Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill, by Barry Gardiner MP for Brent North in London, a private members’ bill which aimed to effectively ban the practice of ‘fire and rehire’. But on Monday 21 March MPs voted in favour of an Opposition Day Motion condemning P&O Ferries for their recent action and demanded that the government take action to improve employment protection for all workers in light of the company’s actions. The vote was passed by 211 votes to none, with the government abstaining.

The Labour party forced the emergency vote in parliament on the motion, which calls on the UK government to outlaw fire and rehire and bring forward an urgent bill to strengthen workers’ rights. As an Opposition Day Motion, the result is not considered legally binding on the government but it does represent the will of Parliament.

So far it does not look like the government will take legislative action to stop fire and rehire which comes as no suprise. However, Tesco workers recently won a court case (USDAW & others v Tesco Stores Limited [2021]) against the supermarket’s use of ‘fire and rehire’ tactics. Lawyers believe that this  is an unusual case decided on a very particular set of facts, so employers shouldn’t see this as a fundamental upheaval of the ‘fire and rehire’ principles generally or the right for an employer to exercise a contractual power to give notice to terminate

But unless the law is changed and the erosion of workers’ rights reversed, the only effective action against fire and rehire can come from public pressure on MPs and government as well as action by workers themselves who are threatened with such predatory tactics. In this battle for rights solidarity needs to shown to those on the front line from the entire trade union movement.