Weetabix serves its workers a taste of fire and rehire greed

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham comments on why it’s up to us to defeat the abhorrent plague of fire and rehire

You might well have had Weetabix for breakfast this morning. So perhaps it’s time to let you know what the bosses behind ‘the nation’s favourite breakfast’ are up to these days. Of late, Weetabix, and its American owners Post Holdings, have joined Unite’s roll call of shame, which exposes employers who have used ‘fire and rehire’ tactics against their own workers. You will have probably heard of ‘fire and rehire’, perhaps without realising the shocking reality of what it means. Basically it works like this – employers come along and say to their workers, “You are fired and you can only get your jobs back if you sign new contracts which mean cuts in your wages and worse terms and conditions.” Some time ago, Weetabix’s inspired version on this theme, was to announce new contracts for its engineers at its factories in Corby and Kettering in Northamptonshire. That means around 80 engineers face brutal wage cuts. Some stand to lose £5000-a-year in wages. The Weetabix engineers are now on strike four days a week when, after weeks of negotiations, their employers refused to make any concessions. These American-style ‘take it or leave it’ labour relations are now being systematically exploited by some of the UK’s biggest brand names. Ultimatum contracts Last April, British Gas issued ‘fire and rehire’ ultimatum contracts to its staff and ended up sacking hundreds of engineers who refused to sign up for longer hours and less pay. Before that, British Airways had tried the same with 12,000 of its staff, and, in a recent parliamentary debate, Argos, Asda, Clarks, Sainsburys and Tesco were all accused of the same practices. Of course, the employers insist they are not using ‘fire and rehire’ strategies and their restructuring leaves many better off. To say, one way and another, they are all at it would not be an exaggeration. To say most of these attacks are unjustified and usually provoked by corporate greed, is also true. In 2020, Weetabix’s turnover grew to £325m and profits leapt to £82m Up 20 per cent. At the same time the St Louis based owners Post Holdings made profits of over £500m! Yet they are trying to fire and rehire engineers in the UK. Tesco predicts profits of £2.5bn this year but has used fire and rehire threats to bludgeon its delivery drivers in Scotland. ‘No way to do capitalism’ Union research estimates that since lockdown began, one in 10 workers – around three million people – have faced this new bosses’ brutality. There’s been a deluge of crocodile tears on all political fronts about it. The Prime Minister has, several times, declared the practice as ‘unacceptable’. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Tory MP for the 19th century in the House of Commons, once said “Fire and Rehire is no way to do capitalism.” But in October – two weeks ago (at the time of writing), in the House of Commons after much hypocritical wringing of hands on the Tory benches they all returned to type. Their three line whip blocked a Unite supported bill to outlaw fire and rehire. When the call came, to a man and woman, they showed their true colours and stood on the side of bad bosses. There can be no illusions now. There is no political saviour riding over the hill to save workers from the brutalities of fire and rehire or from job cuts. We have to organise in the unions and fight back. That is precisely what Unite intends to do. We are not prepared to let workers pay the price of the pandemic.

Sharon Graham

Unite General Secretary

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