Many employers have responded admirably to the coronavirus pandemic by keeping workers safe from the virus and furloughing staff on full pay. However, recently, I’ve been appalled by other employers who are attempting to lay-off workers and rehire them on worse contracts.
Shockingly, British Airways is planning to dismiss all of its 42,000 staff and then re-employ them on stripped back terms and conditions. Trade unions have told BA that they are happy to negotiate reasonable changes as a result of Covid-19. But BA have refused to confirm that any changes will be temporary and that staff’s earnings will return along with profits.
Keir Starmer has rightly called on the Prime Minister to strip British Airways of valuable landing slots unless the company scraps these odious plans.
In our own city, the University of Sheffield is also considering proposals that would strip workers of their agreed terms and conditions of employment. Trade union Unite is fighting against the proposals that would see staff go down to four days-a-week with no pay rises, and no promotions.
Like BA, the University has also issued a Section 188 notice to staff, which threatens to dismiss and rehire them on different terms if an agreement can’t be reached. In a joint letter with other local Labour MPs, I’ve called on the University to withdraw the Section 188 notice and work constructively with the trade unions.
Of course, some sectors of the economy have already been badly hit by the pandemic but workers should not bear the brunt of these difficulties. The reward for months of sacrifice cannot be a redundancy notice.
Not only is reducing workers’ pay and conditions completely unjust, it will only lead to further economic problems and deepen any recession. Naturally, when people see their incomes decrease, they spend less money in shops, restaurants and other businesses, which has a negative knock-on effect for the economy as a whole.
Employers have a duty of care to their staff but the government should also take action to provide struggling businesses with the support they need to stay afloat. That’s why Labour has called on the government to take action which reflects the fact that this economic crisis is affecting sectors differently. Rather than the Tories’ one-size-fits-all approach, which will see some businesses given support they don’t need, the government should be providing targeted support to firms that are struggling the most.
Our country’s burgeoning economic problems will not be solved by staff redundancies and reduced pay – that will just make problems worse. What we need is for the government to provide targeted investment in the economy that will safeguard jobs, protect people’s incomes, and create new employment.