Birkenhead engineering giant Wabtec denies plan to ‘fire and rehire’ 130 workers with pay cuts

The firm has been slated and accused of “greed” over its ‘fire and rehire’ plans by Birkenhead MP Mick Whitley.

An engineering firm has denied it has plans to ‘fire and rehire’ 130 employees in Birkenhead.

Mick Whitley, Labour MP for the Wirral town, slated Wabtec, a US-based international manufacturer and supplier of equipment for the railway industry, claiming it is planning to ‘fire and rehire’ 130 workers with “drastic cuts to their pay and conditions”.

The union Unite said its members at the firm’s Birkenhead site would proceed to a strike ballot unless the firm withdrew what it claimed were proposals that would affect employees in various roles such as assembly fitters, trainers, strip and clean operatives, storemen and team leaders.

Wabtec in Birkenhead. Image: PA

Unite said the company is proposing to reduce rest breaks, and also remove elements of washing time, that the workers have had in place for years.

Wabtec said it has no plans to fire and rehire workers, or make any of its Birkenhead employees redundant.

Criticism of Wabtec

Mick Whitley, MP for Birkenhead, said: “Wabtec is telling 130 of its workers to accept drastic cuts to their pay and conditions or else join the dole queue. I’m appalled that a hardworking and loyal workforce is being treated this way.

“Fire and rehire tactics can never be justified and workers have every right to expect better from their employer.

“We all want to see this situation resolved quickly, but in order for that to happen, management must withdraw these threats and engage constructively with its employees and recognised trade unions.”

The Labour MP called the company’s plans for the 130 workers “despicable”.

Mr Whitley added: “I understand the challenges that the rail industry is facing, but the Birkenhead site remains profitable.

“I’m keen to support Wabtec in bringing work to our town and in realising the important role it has to play in advancing the net-zero agenda, but Wabtec has to first take these despicable threats off the table and guarantee its workers the security that they deserve.”

What Unite union said

Unite said there was anger within its membership at Wabtec’s proposals.

Unite regional officer Steve Gerrard said: “The company has claimed that increases in productivity were agreed during a pay dispute last year.

“This is correct, however the employer has issued a HR1 form which does state there will be no layoffs or redundancies, but has proposed to reduce the terms and conditions of Unite members employed at the Birkenhead site.”

Wabtec manufactures and supplies equipment for the railway industry. Image: PA

Mr Gerrard added: “Although Unite members agreed to the productivity increases, at no time during those negotiations was it discussed or even agreed that the company would look to reduce terms and conditions.

“The employer is simply using a piece of legislation to dismiss and re-engage (otherwise known as fire and rehire) to erode the terms and conditions of our members.

“Their employer seems to think that a solution will be found during consultations, but they also need to be fully aware of the anger felt amongst our membership at these proposals.”

Wabtec deny ‘fire and rehire’ plan

A spokesperson for Wabtec said: “There is no plan to ‘fire and rehire’. That is a mis-characterisation. There are no layoffs or redundancies as part of our consultation.

“The rail industry is competitive, and efficiency is critical for the site’s success. We are discussing with our employees productivity improvements that will strengthen the site’s position in the market to attract more work.

“By working with our employees regarding the proposal, we believe we will reach a solution during the consultation.”