Members of Newry Mourne and Down District Council have backed a motion calling for the end of alleged ‘fire and rehire’ tactics being pursued against workers in Northern Ireland.
There was cross-party support for the Sinn Fein motion at a full council meeting on July 5.
The motion called on the Department for the Economy to close a legal loophole used by companies asking employees to reapply for their jobs on ‘far worse’ contracts.
Speaking at a remote meeting of the council on Monday evening, Cllr Barra Ó Muirí, who was speaking on behalf of Cllr Oonagh Hanlon who brought the motion forward, said that “large unscrupulous companies were exploiting the Covid-19 pandemic to use the loophole”.
He claimed that employers in the retail, hospitality and aviation sectors were by-passing collective redundancy consultation processes on their employees.
He said: “Fire and rehire is a shameful tactic that has been used as a means to push new workers into accepting new terms and conditions or face being sacked.
“Workers can be given as little as seven days to sign a potential new contract or they face the risk of being fired.
“This tactic is making a mockery of workers’ rights and is shown that a small number of exploitative employers are prepared to undermine workers during a pandemic when they know when jobs are vulnerable and opportunities are scarce.
“Sinn Fein calls on the Economy minister [Gordon Lyons] to define fire and rehire policies as unfair dismissal because at the heart of it these policies are extremely unfair.
“In some cases some workers have their wages reduced or their right for sick pay reduced which is extremely reckless because people are having to self-isolate.
“Fire and rehire procedures have already been banned in the rest of Ireland and the banning of those tactics here would provide for workers throughout the island.
“We hope that other progressives will join us in these calls to improve workers rights.”
Speaking in support of the motion, SDLP Cllr Pete Byrne said: “Some of the statistics are quite astonishing. This has become quite prolific throughout the pandemic and we are more than happy to support.”
Meanwhile, Ulster Unionist Cllr David Taylor added: “This is certainly something that I have received representations from trade unions and I am aware that this has proved a big issue on the UK mainland.
“No one underestimates the challenges that businesses have faced as a consequence of Covid-19 but no one should take advantage of that as well in terms of their staff.”
DUP elected representative William Walker said it was a “worthwhile” motion brought forward by Sinn Fein.
He said: “I think it’s timely and there’s a lot of people being exploited during the covid crisis and I do believe the laws here need beefed up and I support the council writing to the Economy minister in relation to it.”