Workers at one of the UK's most renowned charities are facing a choice between losing their jobs or shelling out thousands of pounds to stay employed, a union has said.
Chiefs at trade union Unite say The Duke of Edinburgh Award's (DofE) 'fire and rehire' plans will involve scrapping its fleet of company cars and forcing regional workers to buy their own.
According to Unite, the royal charity has told the workers, who travel to schools, colleges, youth groups, young offender institutions, fostering agencies and hospitals across the UK, that they will be provided with a £4,750 one-off payment to purchase their own work vehicle.
The workers’ contracts will be terminated from March 3rd and, if they do not sign new ones stating the new transport terms, they will lose their job, Unite said. The union has called on DofE trustee, Prince Edward, to intervene over the situation.
In a statement published on the union’s website, Unite regional officer Janet Nobbs said: “The majority of impacted staff are on modest incomes of less than £28,000 and have been absolutely sideswiped by the news that they will now have to shell out potentially thousands of pounds just to keep their job. Unite calls on Prince Edward to intervene on behalf of these workers.
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“Even the cheapest new car costs more than £10,000 and a model suitable for covering the long distances required for the job are considerably more than that. These moves are totally unreasonable, and it is shameful that the charity’s leadership is resorting to fire and rehire to force them through.”
Hobbs added: “DofE leaders also stated the organisation was in an improved financial position in December 2021 and announced that every full-time employee would receive a £1,000 bonus. That bonus is small consolation to staff facing a huge car bill at a time when inflation is skyrocketing.”
A spokesperson for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award said: “The coronavirus pandemic has made the DofE’s work to support young people more important than ever; at the same time, it has affected our operations and income. As a charity, we have a responsibility to manage finances prudently.
“As part of a review of costs, we concluded that providing a fleet of company cars was no longer cost-effective, especially given the move to more remote and hybrid working.
“Following a consultation, staff will be required from April 2022 to use their own vehicles or public transport for work-related travel.
“We greatly value our staff and are supporting colleagues with the transition to the new arrangements, including through increased mileage rates and financial assistance to staff who are purchasing or leasing their own vehicles.”
Use of ‘fire and rehire’ tactics
Recent CIPD research shed light on the use of ‘fire and rehire’ tactics amongst UK firms. The study found that one in five employers (22%) have made changes to employees’ terms and conditions of employment between March 2020 and July 2021, according to new research from the CIPD.
The CIPD’s survey of 2,000 employers found that while 19% changed terms and conditions through consultation, negotiation and voluntary agreement, 3% - the equivalent of 42,960 employers in the UK business population - did so through dismissing staff and rehiring them on new terms, also known as 'fire and rehire'.
Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, said: “The mass shift to home and hybrid working homeworking, as well as business uncertainty and upheaval, in the last year means it’s not surprising so many employers made contractual changes to employees’ terms and conditions of employment.
“A large majority of changes to workers’ contractual terms and conditions were achieved through consultation and agreement; however a minority of organisations did resort to using ‘fire and rehire’ practices.
“While our research shows this is not a widespread tactic, more progress can still be made in avoiding this practice which creates a high risk of legal claims, reputational damage and an adverse effect on employee relations. ‘Fire and rehire’ should only be undertaken after extensive consultation and all other alternatives have been considered.”
In response, the CIPD has published new guidance for employers when they make changes to terms and conditions. It stresses that employers should always consult and seek voluntary agreement with employees and take all steps to avoid so-called ‘fire and rehire’ practices, except in exceptional circumstances.
The guidance provides advice on the dos and don’ts of changing terms and conditions, ways of avoiding ‘fire and rehire’ through alternative solutions or compromise, and how to approach it if there really are no other options available. The associated legal and ethical risks of ‘fire and rehire’ are also highlighted.
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