The Public and Commercial Services civil service union has called on housing secretary Robert Jenrick to intervene on housing delivery agency Homes England after staff were threatened with being fired and re-hired as part of a pay and grading exercise.
PCS said proposals tabled by Homes England management would see staff “dismissed and rehired on worse terms” if the union did not agree to pay cuts for certain groups of staff.
CSW understands that around 100 of Homes England’s roughly 1,200 staff are facing pay cuts as part of the exercise, with the cost likely to run “into the thousands” for the worst affected officials when a four-year period of pay protection ends.
PCS said the “fire and rehire” plans first emerged in late April when they were raised verbally and opposed by the union. PCS said it had been led to believe the proposals had been dropped after it raised the issue with the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
But it said a written version of the proposals was tabled last month that directly referred to the process under Section 188 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations Consolidation Act 1992 that would allow the agency to “dismiss and offer re-engagement for those individuals not agreeing to the proposals”.
In a letter to Jenrick written by PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka and seen by CSW, the union calls on the housing secretary to direct senior managers to withdraw the proposal, referencing prime minister Boris Johnson’s previous acknowledgement that fire and rehire was “unacceptable”.
“Given recent remarks from the prime minister and ministers, it would appear that the government is opposed to fire and rehire,” Serwotka wrote.
“If that is the case, then we would be grateful if you intervene as a matter of urgency to direct Homes England to withdraw the written proposals and to pledge not to consider fire and rehire again.”
Serwotka said Homes England was using the threat of fire and rehire as a negotiation tactic, making it clear that the move would be the end position if unions did not agree pay cuts for some, effectively attempting to intimidate PCS into acceptance.
“The change they are seeking is not fundamental to their operation but just a desired goal,” he said.
“This is not an organisation faced with bankruptcy, feeling it has no choice as to its actions but a funded organisation whose senior managers have fixated on an outcome.”
PCS warned Jenrick to expect members of the union’s parliamentary group to raise the issue with him.
A Homes England spokesperson said: “We will continue to hold discussions with our staff and the unions as we look to introduce a fair pay and grading system.”
MHCLG had not responded to CSW’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Last week Homes England announced it had appointed a new chief executive to replace Nick Walkley who left the organisation in February.
Peter Denton, who is currently chief executive of housing association Hyde Group, will join the agency later this year.
Gordon More is currently acting chief exec of Homes England. Previously the agency’s lead investment officer, More delayed his retirement to lead the organisation on an interim basis.
This story was updated at 14:30 on 18 June 2021 to include a response from Homes England