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Cemetery workers could strike in ‘fire-and-rehire’ dispute with Barry town council

 

Cemetery workers could strike due to a dispute with Barry town council around changes to working hours and the controversial ‘fire and rehire’ practice.

The town council is asking staff at Merthyr Dyfan Cemetery to work later in the evening over the summer, but has not agreed to the changes with all workers.

Trade union GMB said the town council is using a ‘fire and rehire’ scheme, where employers force staff to accept contract changes, or be fired and rehired on worse conditions.

Barry town council “categorically denies” it was intending to use the controversial practice, and said it was not reducing hours or pay.

After hundreds of British Gas staff were sacked earlier this year in a similar dispute, the first minister has called for the changes in the law to ban the practice.

Nicola Savage, GMB regional organiser, said: “This practice is unscrupulous, unpopular and unwarranted. Barry town council think they can run roughshod over its staff; they can’t. Members should have no fear that we will stand up and protect them.

“The damage is done, members from across the council feel betrayed and we’re balloting our members now on whether to take strike action. 

“The council should stop digging a hole and come back to the table immediately, or this could escalate into strike action.”

The town council changed the contracted working hours for six cemetery staff, according to GMB. The council withdrew from talks with the union about the proposed changes. GMB is now balloting its members about striking.

The changes would see staff working later on two to three shifts each month between April and September, according to the council, to allow the public go to the cemetery in the evenings.

A town council spokeswoman said: “Barry town council categorically denies that there was ever any intention to ‘fire and rehire’.

“The council is simply attempting to make a minor variation to cemetery workers’ terms and conditions with no reduction in hours, pay, nor continuity of service. The minor variation was to include two to three later shifts per month between April and September

A town council spokeswoman said: “Barry town council categorically denies that there was ever any intention to ‘fire and rehire’.

“The council is simply attempting to make a minor variation to cemetery workers’ terms and conditions with no reduction in hours, pay, nor continuity of service. The minor variation was to include two to three later shifts per month between April and September.

“The council was responding to public demand following a trial period of later cemetery gates closure — until 7pm, Monday to Friday — to enable working families to attend loved ones’ graves in lighter summer months.

“First trialled in summer 2018 and summer 2019, and continued since, this is a service which families are truly grateful for, as this allows them the flexibility of visiting times.

“Consultation has taken place since March 2020 including ACAS support to try to reach a formal shared way forward via the union. The union refused to consider any variation despite being offered a financial incentive to accept the change.

“The change effectively means that six staff will be required to work 14 11am–7pm shifts per year in order to provide this valuable service to the public which, the council believes is a fair and reasonable request.”

Firing and rehiring caused outcry earlier this year as British Gas workers had their contracts changed with longer hours and a cut in average pay. The dispute led to a massive strike and calls on the government to ban the practice in the upcoming employment bill.

Mark Drakeford called the practice ‘unacceptable’ during First Minister’s Questions on Tuesday, June 8. He said: “I share the view of the prime minister that they are unacceptable. The UK government needs to act to put these practices beyond the law.”

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