Unite, the UK and Ireland’s largest union, has demanded that Wren Kitchens immediately rehires hundreds of staff it fired in the midst of the coronavirus lockdown following new advice from the government that workers sacked since 28 February are eligible for 80 per cent of their wages if they are reinstated.
According to Unite members and former staff, the firm sacked the workers for purportedly ‘underperforming’ on Tuesday (24 March) but also cited the impact on the economy that the coronavirus will have and invited to them ‘reconnect with the company’ once the crisis is over. Unite said there was zero evidence to back up the company’s allegations of underperformance and called the claims an ‘insult’ to a committed workforce.
As the workers have been sacked, they will no longer be entitled to claim 80 per cent of their wages under the government’s furlough scheme, however official guidance makes clear that workers sacked since 28 February are eligible if they are reinstated.
Unite, which has members at the firm, also criticised Wren Kitchens for failing to listen to staff concerns over maintaining social distancing and coronavirus safety measures at its factories in Barton and Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, and Howden, East Yorkshire, which have continued to operate despite the nationwide shutdown.
Unite regional officer Mike Wilkinson said: “Firing staff in the midst of pandemic lockdown for supposedly underperforming is truly appalling behaviour as well as an insult to a committed workforce. That this happened when the government has guaranteed the wages of furloughed workers makes Wren’s behaviour particularly cruel. The government has made clear that workers sacked after 28 February are eligible for the scheme if they are rehired. Wren must do the right thing and reinstate these workers immediately.
“Workers at the firm’s sites in Howden, Barton and Scunthorpe have also expressed severe concerns about safety measures and social distancing. While supplying kitchens for those who have removed them in expectation of a new one is necessary work during a period when it isn’t possible to use restaurants or visit a relative’s house to eat, Wren must heed its workers’ concerns immediately. Social distancing and safety measures must be enacted, and the last remaining orders fulfilled using the minimum amount of staff possible.
“It remains to be seen if the public will forget the way Wren has treated its staff at a time when the entire nation is supposed to be pulling together. Unite urges Wren to right the wrongs it has so clearly displayed over the last week before its reputation is forever besmirched. For those that are sick of being treated as disposable assets or having their health and safety disregarded, we urge them to organise and join a trade union.”