Political parties clash over ‘fire and rehire’ practices during STUC hustings

Douglas Barrie, PA Scotland
·5-min read

Members of Scotland’s political parties have clashed over the issue of banning “fire and rehire” practices with two weeks to go until the Holyrood election.

The topic was just one from a number of issues raised during an online hustings hosted by the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) on Monday evening.

Questions were asked by members of various trade unions including Katrina Copeland, a GMB member and Centrica employee who said staff there were issued with an S188 notice seven months ago.

She said the business “wanted to basically annihilate our current terms and conditions”, with some workers losing holidays and others working more hours a week which “created a mental health crisis in British Gas”.

Scottish Trade Union Congress Scottish Parliament Election Hustings

Join us at the Scottish Trade Union Congress Scottish Parliament Election Hustings on Monday 26th April at 6pm.Come along to hear from workers across Scotland as they share their stories and ask politicians what they will do to address the challenges facing workers today.This is your chance to ask questions on the issues that matter to you.We are delighted to welcome our panel:Alistair Carmichael, Scottish Liberal DemocratsPatrick Harvie MSP, Co-convenor Scottish Green Party Scottish Green PartyStephen Kerr, Scottish Conservative candidate for Central ScotlandScottish Conservative and Unionist PartyAnas Sarwar MSP, Leader of the Scottish Labour PartyNicola Sturgeon MSP, Leader of the Scottish National PartyWith Bill Scott as Chair, Poverty and Inequality Commission.We know the last year has been a challenge for workers and their families. Trade unions have been working hard to keep workers safe. As we move through the public health crisis we need to ensure that plans are in place for Scotland’s recovery.We need a People’s Recovery that delivers Action on Pay, Action on Care and Action for Jobs.

Posted by Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) on Friday, April 9, 2021

To her question over outlawing such practices, and supporting devolution of employment law to do so, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: “I would do it tomorrow if I had the power to do it, but we don’t, which is why the devolution of employment law is so fundamentally important.

“We need to get those powers out of the hands of Westminster and into the hands of a Scottish Parliament that I believe most parties if not all parties would use better than current Westminster Government.

“Those kind of practices are abhorrent and we should call out employers who are trying to do things like that – but we need the power to do more than that to actually make them illegal.”

While former Tory MP Stephen Kerr, Scottish Conservative candidate for Falkirk West and the Central Scotland regional list on May 6, agreed it was unacceptable, he added: “I do not believe that employment law should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

“There are already many powers devolved to the Scottish Parliament that Nicola Sturgeon and her government have never got their arms around.

“We have powers in this country to tackle what is I think a huge priority after the public health crisis… we need to unite together as a country and focus on the issue of job creation.”

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Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar replied: “I get what Stephen is saying but if Stephen’s accepting that they are exploitative practices across the country then perhaps we should be acting across the country to stop the exploitative practices of the likes of British Gas – which to be frank is an utter disgrace what they’re doing with their staff and not the only company that have been through that process or attempted that process.

“I do support the devolution of employment law – I want the way that we do over though to set a floor across the UK and to devolve the power across the nations and regions of the UK so we can try and have a race to the top, rather than a race to the bottom, across the UK.

“But a few other things within that I think we do have the ability to do some things ourselves.”

Lib Dem MP Alistair Carmichael said fire and rehire “has no place in the 21st century and needs to be abolished across the whole of the United Kingdom”.

He added: “I’ve got no doctrinal objection to devolution but employment law is something that is pretty much at the heart of the idea of a single UK market.

“To take the most egregious examples of fire and rehire it’s been companies like British Airways and British Gas and you can see how, as companies operating right across the UK, it wouldn’t be that difficult for them to get around it.

“My aspiration is to get rid of fire and rehire but actually to do that for workers across the whole of the United Kingdom because I care as much about worker seats at the border as I do about workers in Scotland.”

But Patrick Harvie, of the Scottish Greens, said it was “outrageous to suggest that it’s more important to protect the UK free market than it is to protect workers”.

He said: “If devolution had not been blocked during the Smith Commission we could already have outlawed this practice, we could already have outlawed age discrimination in the minimum wage and made it a real living wage for all, we could have repealed the anti-trade union laws that were passed by the Tory government, and we could have done much more than that.

“But there are things that we can do right now even in publicly-funded, further education.

“We hear the same practices, effectively fire and rehire, happening within the devolved areas of responsibility, such as further education so if we’re serious about that commitment we need to live by it as well in the areas that are currently under devolve power.”