‘We need to outlaw fire and rehire forever,’ declares UNISON community conference 

The annual conference was held in Bournemouth on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 March

Kevin Jackson speaking to rows of delegates

Delegates gathered at UNISON’s community conference in Bournemouth on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 March to pass key motions on fire and rehire, low-paid workers being charged for DBS checks and sick pay for social carers.

Fire and rehire

One of the first motions passed was on fire and rehire – a hostile employment practice where an employer seeks to terminate workers’ existing contracts and rehire them under new terms.

Delegates heard how the tactic has been prevalent in the community and voluntary sectors for decades, and without proper legislative protection employers will continue to use this dodgy practice.

Dismissal and re-engagement (also known as ‘fire and rehire’ ) has made the headlines in recent years, with household names like British Gas dismissing workers and re-employing them on inferior terms and conditions. 

Introducing the motion on behalf of the community service group executive, Kevin Jackson (pictured, at podium) said: “Our members need to stop this from happening now. We need to improve our organising and work to outlaw fire and hire forever with any future government”.

The motion called for the service group executive to work with the national executive council to highlight this practice and the effect it has on union members, and support the call for stronger mechanisms to ultimately outlaw fire and rehire.

Low-paid workers being charged for DBS checks

Conference heard how many low paid members in the community sector are being asked by their employers to pay for their own disclosure and barring service (DBS) checks.

The average support worker earns £10.50 per hour and an enhanced DBS costs £38, which means many workers are effectively being forced to pay in order to work. 

Moving the motion, Jordan Creed from London community and voluntary branch described his own experience: “When I worked as a support worker looking after people with learning disabilities, the employer took £20 out of my first two payslips to pay off my DBS check. It means, effectively, they got four hours of free work from me.”

The motion calling on the community service group executive to support the campaign to abolish DBS charges for workers, was started by the UNISON community and voluntary organisations branch and supported by Labour Link.

The motion also requires UNISON to provide practical support by surveying branches to find out which employers are charging for their DBS and to challenge this on social media. 

UNISON assistant national officer Haifa Rashed said: “No one should have to pay to work. If a DBS check is a requirement of a job role, the cost burden should be met by the employer, not the worker. 

“It is fundamentally unfair to force low paid workers to pay for these essential security checks, especially in a cost of living crisis. UNISON is committed to raising this issue with employers and elected representatives and campaigning to abolish this unjust practice.” 

The petition for the London community and voluntary branch’s ‘Abolish the DBS charge for workers’ campaign can be found here. Members can also follow the campaign on Twitter.

“Social care is on its knees”

Social care was high on the agenda at the conference, with four motions related to social care being carried unanimously. Two of these motions focused specifically on the lack of proper sick pay provision for care workers. Many care workers do not have occupational sick pay and so rely on statutory sick pay, which only is paid after three days of absence. 

Introducing a motion on sick pay, Paul Rochford from UNISON’s national major charities committee described the dilemma faced by many in this situation: “Workers are forced to choose between going into work sick and feeding their families or doing the right thing by colleagues and service users and staying away, when not fit to work.”

Last year, a UNISON survey of over 2000 social care workers found that over a third of respondents had used up annual leave when sick in order to avoid losing pay. 

The variety of motions led to rich discussions among delegates, who recognised the disproportionate amount of women and Black members in the workforce who are confronted with severe staffing shortages and poor terms and conditions.

Actions agreed by the motions included:

  • providing clear bargaining support information to reps and officers engaged in negotiations around sickness absence and sick pay;
  • encouraging reps and officers to press for sick pay from day one where this is not already provided and resist any attempts to move backwards where this is already the case;
  • campaigning for improved statutory sick pay provisions and for local authorities and others to specify good standards of sick pay provision when commissioning services.

UNISON social care lead, Gavin Edwards said: “Our members working in social care have had enough of the fragmented, bargain basement model for care which has led to poor quality care and poor terms and conditions for care workers.

“Is it any wonder there are 165,000 vacancies in the sector when workers are asked to do a difficult, skilled job for minimum wage, and often less? 

“UNISON will campaign for the investment the sector needs and reform which will create a National Care Service.”