The coronavirus crisis has certainly impacted businesses across Britain, for better or worse. Some businesses, however, have used the pandemic as a convenient excuse to squeeze every last penny out of their workers.
One way the bosses have managed this is to simply ‘fire and rehire’ staff on worse contracts. This tactic has gained notoriety in recent months, having been used against BA cargo handlers, bus drivers, and council workers in Tower Hamlets – to name just a few examples.
Such examples are a glimpse of the struggles that will unfold in the coming period. This economic crisis will continue to be felt long after the pandemic fades. And, with the Tories anxious to rein in the furlough scheme, the bosses will be going on the offensive to claw back any potential losses to their profits.
The labour movement must gear up to face these attacks, with a mass campaign to organise workers into the unions and prepare for battle.
The Labour Party should also be playing a leading role, acting as the political voice of the working class. This means putting forward a clear socialist programme to point the way forward for workers.
Such a programme should include calling for a ban on fire-and-rehire tactics, alongside the repeal of anti-union legislation, which is designed to hamper workers’ ability to defend themselves.
It’s shameful to see companies like @sogoodlord using the pandemic to cut their workers’ pay by bullying them into accepting contracts on inferior pay and conditions. Jasper was lucky enough to walk away, but thousands of workers are forced to accept such terms. @SoBadLord pic.twitter.com/W59Em5Hkm3
— Unite London & Eastern (@UniteLondonEast) March 4, 2021
Bosses in the tech industry – a sector which is already seeing a wave of unionisation – are now aping employers elsewhere, attempting similar fire-and-rehire methods.
A few months ago, tech workers at Goodlord were offered new contracts to replace their current temporary ones. The London-based letting platform offered workers in their referencing department a derisory 20% pay cut on average. This amounts to salary cuts ranging from £4000 to £6000, alongside reductions in their maternity, holiday and sick pay.
These massive pay cuts would bring workers’ wages below the London Living Wage. However, Goodlord bosses claimed that since these workers are now working from home, they are no longer required to live in London – and therefore don’t require a London wage!
This paper-thin excuse is a blatant attempt by Goodlord to cover their backs. As Unite regional officer Steve O’Donnell commented:
“Part of the reason our members were hired was because they live in London. Now, in a transparent attempt to justify wage cuts that would make it impossible to keep their heads above water, the company has told them they don’t need to reside in the city they call home. “
In response to this attack on their pay and conditions, Goodlord workers have agreed to strike indefinitely, until the bosses back off and get round the negotiating table. We spoke with two of the striking workers on a recent picket line (see below).
The workers are also putting pressure on the bosses by holding demonstrations outside of the offices of Goodlord’s clients. At the same time, they are running a tongue-in-cheek social media campaign going by the name of ‘Badlord’.
— Badlord (@SoBadLord) February 24, 2021
Such militant action from these young workers – in an industry with low union membership, no less – is a welcome development. Workers in other unions and industries should take inspiration from their tenacity and determination.
As the crisis deepens, fresh layers of workers will be pushed into activity, to the forefront of the class struggle – just like the workers at Goodlord.
The labour movement must throw their full weight behind these struggles, organising and supporting militant action to fight back against the bosses and their attacks.
This ruthless race to the bottom is a reflection of the dog-eat-dog nature of capitalism – a system concerned only with profit. This shows why we need public ownership and workers’ control over the economy. Only in this way can decent pay and conditions be guaranteed to all.
Goodlord tech workers say no to bosses’ fire and rehire tactics! On Monday, Socialist Appeal attended a picket line in Spitalfields, where we interviewed two tech workers on strike, organised by @UniteLondonEast. Hear why Scott is on strike here (part two below). @SoBadLord pic.twitter.com/ZQhn2yR4kY
— Tower Hamlets Socialist Appeal (@TowerHamletsSA) March 3, 2021
Socialist Appeal: Would you like to introduce yourselves?
Scott: Hi there. I’m Scott, I’m 29, I’ve worked for Goodlord for about three years.
Athena: Hi, I’m Athena. I work in the referencing department at Goodlord.
SA: And why are you on strike today?
Scott: Because back in November, we were all employed on rolling six-month contracts. They announced they wouldn’t be continuing those contracts and would be offering new contracts on much worse terms and conditions, with about a 20% cut in pay. That’s a pay cut of between £4000-6000 a year. So we are on strike for fair wages.
SA: And what was the excuse that was given for this pay cut?
Athena: So basically when I was hired in March, before the coronavirus, we were specifically hired to work in these offices so we could come in every day.
When the lockdown started, we were the last ones who had to leave the offices because they said that our jobs are here, we can’t do our jobs from home. So finally we were sent home.
Then, a few months, after realising that we can do our jobs from home, they decided that ‘Oh, then I don’t have to pay you for living in London’. Well, we live in London! You hired me because I live in London.
SA: And Scott, how do you feel about this excuse?
Scott: Well, I think it’s a pretty bad excuse really. Up until the pandemic, we were told over and over again, ‘work from home is impossible’. We asked for work from home, actually, but we were told it wasn’t possible due to data protection and all that.
Then obviously when it was necessary for them to do it they found out it was very possible. So then they thought it would be a good idea to cut our wages.
Considering that a lot of us had extended tenancies, and had remained in London under the assumption we would return to working in a London-based location after pandemic, I think it was a pretty pretty bad move on their part.
SA: We’ve seen this fire-and-rehire tactic pop up quite a lot recently, for example with the Tower Hamlets council. The pandemic and the economic crisis has given employers the opportunity to drive down wages and conditions. How do you think that the unions should mobilise to fight against this tactic?
Scott: Well, I think it’s a matter of first of all getting unionisation – especially in the tech industry where it’s pretty rare. I think people are going to find more and more that this kind of thing is necessary because it’s the only way a lot of these companies will listen to their workers – if you speak with one voice, and are organised together.
People think it won’t happen to them. We thought it wouldn’t happen to us, and it did. Ultimately, it’s a case of unionising and presenting your demands to management. If they don’t listen – and a lot of them probably aren’t used to listening – it’s a matter of taking all the legal avenues that are available to use, such as this strike.
Athena: I honestly think that in the past year a lot has changed. And this is going to be a gigantic opportunity for big companies to oppress the working class. I think that our best chance, just generally as a society to live better in the future is if we stick together, in any way necessary. I think that us working people who have the skills to sell – we have to stick together as much as we can.
SA: The current Labour Party leadership don’t seem very interested in supporting the fight against. In fact, they seem more interested in cosying up to the employers. What role do you think Labour should play?
Scott: Starmer seems to have successfully alienated the trade union movement lately. I think they should be taking a much stronger stance. They should be using what parliamentary power they have to try and pass laws in our favour, and to hopefully ban fire and rehire.
Send donations to the Goodlord workers’ strike fund using the following details:
Sort Code: 608301
Account number: 20303680
Name: Unite LE/7098L London ITC Branch
Reference to use: Goodlord