The pandemic has brought the industrial relations practice of “Fire and Rehire” into sharp relief. Already outlawed in several European states and according to the Fair Work Convention contrary to the Fair Work Principles endorsed by the Scottish Government, the Scottish Courts have recently upheld a legal challenge against the highly controversial practice.
The UK left the European Union on the 31st December 2020 creating an even more uncertain future ahead while we are still on the road to recovery from the pandemic.The pandemic highlighted the need to have strong employment rights in the UK and while in the European Union we benefitted from legislation such as the Working Time Directive, the future of employment rights in a post-Brexit Britain are now uncertain.
In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of press surrounding trial shifts and whether or not people should be paid for them. Currently in the UK, unpaid trial shifts are legal and to date there is no real definition for them.HMRC issued guidance in order to try and minimise trial shifts being unpaid. HMRC state that ultimately the decision lies with tribunals and courts to decide whether the minimum wage should be paid in specific cases. This does not provide a lot of protection for people who are being asked to come in for an unpaid trial shift. There is no uniform guidance on how long a trial shift should be and there certainly is no consistent execution of the guidance to unpaid trial shifts by employers.
It has recently been reported that there is a lack of gender inequality within courts in Scotland, and across the UK, with those sitting in the benches lacking in diversity.
BBC News reported recently on the story of Jonathan Taylor who was a whistle-blower in 2012, when he revealed corruption within SBM Offshore, a Dutch multinational company, for whom he worked for a period of nine years in Monaco. The information he released led to SBM Offshore paying a £186 million settlement to Dutch authorities, with a similar settlement in the USA. After returning to Southampton and family life, he recently travelled to Croatia for a holiday when he was held on an Interpol “red notice” extradition request to Monaco, based on allegations of “bribery and corruption”. The extradition request has now been quashed by the Supreme Court of Croatia however he remains stranded in Croatia whilst a request for a European arrest warrant is made.
Our work has made us all too aware of the pervasive nature of race discrimination in the workplace. In the last few years, we’ve supported workers who have been told to “go home” because of the colour of their skin; healthcare workers who’ve been suspended from work because patients refuse to be treated by black clinicians; workers with perfect English whose confidence is chipped away as they have their pronunciation corrected on a daily basis; and those who’ve been unfairly disciplined because a reasonable explanation is less likely to be believed if it’s delivered in a foreign accent.
Last week the UK Government announced rescue plans for businesses comprising a number of loans which would be made available to cope with the economic impact of Covid-19. On Friday Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, revealed a plan to subsidise 80% of the wages for workers who are ‘furloughed’ (workers who are laid off but remain in employment) by paying these directly to employers. It is now clear that businesses who have made employees redundant after 1 March 2020 will be permitted to re-employ them and place them on furlough. Employers will also be able to claim backdated wages through the Government Scheme.
Despite the government instruction that only “essential” workplaces will continue to operate under the COVID – 19 lockdown, many workplaces are still open for business as usual. The headlines around employers such as Sports Direct clearly show that for some bosses the pursuit of profit far exceeds the health and safety of their workforce.