New rules against so-called “fire and rehire” practices in wake of the P&O scandal will not stop it from being repeated, trade unions have warned.
Ministers have launched a consultation for a new code of practice for all employers, which would set out companies’ responsibilities when they seek to change contractual terms.
The government is looking to introduce the rules – such as compensation payments for staff who are unfairly dismissed – in the wake of P&O’s decision to fire employees and replace them with cheaper agency staff last year.
In March 2022 ferry operator P&O made the headlines when it fired 800 workers and then rehired cheaper agency workers.
The company was widely criticised after chief executive Peter Hebblethwaite admitted in front of a joint parliamentary committee that P&O had broken the law by not consulting with the trade unions .
Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), said the proposed measures would not be enough.
“A statutory code of practice is not going to stop another P&O-style scandal from happening, and it won’t deter bad bosses from treating staff like disposable labour,” he said.
Nowak’s remarks were echoed by RMT’s boss Mick Lynch, who said the consultation will not help former P&O staff.
He said: “Our members struggling to re-build their lives after being thrown out of their jobs at P&O Ferries by private security guards will gain nothing from another lengthy consultation process.”
“Statutory guidance will not stop aggressive employers from firing staff and re-hiring them on inferior pay and terms and conditions.
“If the government doesn’t understand that, then we know they are on the side of P&O Ferries and not that of workers in Britain.”
Grant Shapps, the business secretary, said: “Using fire and rehire as a negotiation tactic is a quick-fire way to damage your reputation as a business.
“Our new code will crack down on firms mistreating employees and set out how they should behave when changing an employee’s contract. We are determined to do all we can to protect and enhance workers’ rights across the country.”
The code of practice was also hailed by maritime minister Baroness Vere, but was slammed by the Labour Party.
Deputy leader Angela Rayner said proposals were not worth, “the paper it’s written on.”
“If the Conservatives want to protect workers, they’d finally bring in the employment bill they promised but have abandoned,” she said.
In an apparent dig against the government’s proposed minimum service levels bill, Rayner added: “Instead, they’re bringing in a law to threaten nurses, firefighters and other key workers with the sack.”
The consultation will take place over the next 12 weeks.