Somerset Labour members gathered outside the Clarks warehouse in Street this week, in support of the 100+ workers facing the imminent threat of ‘fire and rehire’. Local groups from Bridgwater, Taunton, Wells and Yeovil, stood alongside employees who were protesting at the prospect of being sacked and re- employed for vast pay cuts and inferior conditions. The threat comes from Clarks new owners, Lion Rock Capital – a private equity company based in Hong Kong – another in a long list of employers using the ‘fire and rehire’ tactic in the UK to slash wages and save money. Some of the conditions that Lion Rock Capital want to impose include a 15% reduction in hourly pay, cuts in sick pay and overtime rates, abolition of coffee breaks, and no pay rise for at least four years.
Sedgemoor District Councillor for the Bridgwater Dunwear ward, Alexia Bartlett who stood on the picket line today, said, “These swingeing cuts and cruel conditions will have an enormous impact on workers. It means a heavy reduction in wages amounting to a potential monthly loss of hundreds of pounds for many employees. This whole ‘fire and rehire’ threat is appalling and totally immoral and will push many people further into poverty. It is a practice which should be outlawed and which should carry serious penalties for employers.”
Andrew Jeffery, Bridgwater Branch Secretary, took the Labour Party banner to the picket line Friday 15th October at 6am and said afterwards “It was humbling to join the the brave workers fighting for their livelihoods. Many businesses in many sectors have tried to take advantage of the pandemic with fire and re-hire type tactics, seeing an opportunity to cut wages and worsen working conditions. From the BA workers to British Gas engineers, the Clark’s warehouse workers find themselves in a long line of people fighting just to maintain what are already historically low wages and worsening conditions. Talking to the people taking a stand they talked about the ways that management had made bad decisions with developing the warehouse and made work more difficult. But the cost is always paid by the people who have to deal with these things, and whose work and knowledge is what makes the business productive. As I unfurled the banner before sunrise and then stood for several hours before I had to get back to my own work the passing road was loud with car horns and waves of support. The public understand and overwhelmingly support these workers against what their employer is doing. These workers will have to change their lives radically if the changes go through. Talking to people on the picket you learn so much. Our support is essential. With the consistent attacks on pay and conditions across the UK these strikes are vital for building the awareness and building the resistance more broadly until we win.”
Latest Tactic to further exploit workers
Bridgwater Town & District Councillors Brian Smedley and Li Gibson also visited the strikers. Cllr Brian Smedley, Leader of Bridgwater Town Council and Leader of the Labour Group on Sedgemoor District Council, said “Fire and Rehire is the latest tactic bosses have seized on as a way to exploit workers even more. It was seen at British Airways when they tried to force workers to accept contracts that would see pay cuts of around 25 percent last year and again at ASDA in 2019. Now, as workers get wise to it, engineers at British Gas and bus drivers in Manchester have been striking to fight this cruel strategy to first sack them and then rehire them on worse contracts. What is happened now is that many firms are staring at a squeeze on their profits in the wake of Brexit and the pandemic and so have picked up on this idea, bullying workers and using the threat of unemployment to force them to accept worse contracts. Fire and rehire also tries to sideline trade union officials and puts direct pressure on the individual worker, and so the way to fight it has to be collectively, which is why the Unions are stepping up to the mark and why Labour should be showing solidarity. But Fire and Rehire is a risky policy as firms run the risk of losing highly-trained workers and at the same time the bad PR for the companies could linger. Next week Labour MP Barry Gardiner is putting a bill through parliament to outlaw this practice and we need to step up our campaigns to support this.”
Scenes from the picket line
(Photos by Kate Pearce)