GMB members led a march through the city centre and a short demonstration in response to controversial tactics planned by Wiltshire Council regarding ongoing labour disputes.

GMB members, alongside UNISON and Unite the Union members who joined in support, gathered at 11.30am on Saturday, November 4 to march down Blue Boar Row from the library, onto Brown Street, Milford Street, New Canal, High Street, Silver Street and Minster Street, shouting slogans which included “Wiltshire Council hear us say, not a penny off our pay” and “No to fire and rehire”.

Traffic wardens across Wiltshire also joined the protest by engaging in a 24-hour strike on the same day.

Salisbury Journal: GMB Southern Region branch secretary Andy Newman leads a march against fire and rehire on Saturday, November 4.GMB Southern Region branch secretary Andy Newman leads a march against fire and rehire on Saturday, November 4. (Image: Joshua Truksa/Newsquest)

GMB Southern Region branch secretary Andy Newman explained that Wiltshire Council revealed plans on Friday, August 4, to employ the tactic of fire and rehire in an attempt to overcome disputes over pay cuts that the council has sought since 2021.

The pay cuts would affect more than 500 public sector workers in Wiltshire who work unsocial hours, including traffic wardens and social workers, who would stand to lose up to £8,000 a year. The policy would also affect specialist care workers known as reablement workers, who help patients recover from surgeries.

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Mr Newman added: “What they basically do is if you have a contract of employment, they give you notice that they’re going to dismiss you—because your contractual terms can’t be changed without your consent—and they give you three months’ notice that they’re going to dismiss you and then they dismiss you and on the same day they re-employ you but on different contractual terms. So, it’s a very controversial practice because it means that contracts of employment aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.”

UNISON Wiltshire branch secretary Mike Osment said: “It’s not used in local government. This is P&O-style tactics- unscrupulous employers, not recognised authorities.

“What we will be advising our members to do—and we’re the largest union at Wiltshire Council—is we’ll be telling people not to sign any contracts. If enough staff do that [Wiltshire Council] is going to have to think again.

“The biggest worry is if they get away with this they will use it again and then try to bypass the unions.”

Terence Herbert, Chief Executive of Wiltshire Council, said before the demonstration: “We recognise the rights of GMB members to strike at this time, but do not feel that this action will help to move us forward to a resolution to this matter.

“For the sake of the wellbeing of our staff, and our need to ensure our policies are fit for purpose, we have also been clear that this matter cannot remain unresolved indefinitely. The existing terms and conditions are not financially sustainable in their current form.

"Throughout this process we have strictly adhered to employment law and always will. We have been seeking to reach collective agreement, but to date the unions have not provided any alternative feasible proposals, although Unison and Unite did get a mandate to agree to the proposed changes.

"It’s important to note there will be no immediate dismissal and offer of re-engagement (also called ‘fire and re-hire’) despite the unions stating that this will be the approach.

"Our absolute preference remains to reach collective agreement but if this is not possible then we will seek to reach agreement with staff on an individual basis.

"We remain open to alternative proposals from the unions that meet our business objectives. We have been speaking to affected staff to provide them with all the information they need, and will continue to do so.

"It is in everyone’s best interests that this is resolved as quickly and fairly as possible and we’ll continue to work hard to achieve this.”