CALLS are being made to the UK Government to take action to protect thousands of workers by banning the “exploitative practice” of firms sacking staff and then looking to re-employ them on significantly reduced terms.

The demand comes from the SNP MP Gavin Newlands, who has introduced a members bill aimed at preventing companies from making employees redundant and re-hiring them on worse terms.

His Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill has cross-party support from members of every party in Westminster, and comes in response to major companies – such as Centrica and British Airways – that are looking to lay off and then re-hire thousands of workers on diminished terms due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bill has received the backing of major trade unions across the UK including Unite, BALPA and GMB Scotland.

With a week to go before the first round of cuts to the furlough schemes takes effect, the Paisley and Renfrewshire North MP also renewed party calls on the Treasury to extend the support measures into 2021 – warning that prematurely cutting back the schemes could lead to job losses on a scale not seen since the 1980s.

“The coronavirus pandemic has dealt a devastating blow to the economy and businesses across the UK, however it cannot be the case that some major employers exploit the pandemic by firing and then rehiring hard-working staff on significantly reduced terms,” he said.

“Households are already under financial pressure as people suffer a drop in income or job losses. For companies – such as Centrica and British Airways – to plough ahead with plans to water down workers’ rights is shameful and must be stopped.”

He added: “It is absolutely critical that the UK Government heeds the warnings and takes the urgent step to back my Dismissal and Re-employment Bill – backed by cross-party MPs – and ban the exploitative practice before thousands of staff fall victim to this move.

“If the UK Government is genuine in its pledge to help workers then it must back the measures in the Bill and ban employers from firing and rehiring staff on diminished terms.

“Beyond that it must also extend its furlough schemes into 2021 – failing to do so could lead to job losses on a scale not seen since the 1980s.

“With the first round of cuts to the support schemes due to hit next week, and the threat of job losses growing each day, the Treasury must scrap its self-imposed cliff-edge deadline and put workers first.

“The SNP has been pressing the UK Government to act for months. If Westminster refuses to take the necessary steps it must devolve the powers to Holyrood so Scotland can get on with the job to make different choices for an investment-led recovery that protects jobs.”

Earlier this month trade unions accused the owner of British Gas of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a “smokescreen” to force its 20,000 employees to accept worse employment contracts – or lose their jobs. Centrica had said it is in talks to “simplify” the wide range of employment contracts used across its 20,000-strong workforce, having announced plans in June to axe 5000 jobs. British Gas was forced to assure employees it would only seek to terminate existing contracts and offer fresh terms, known as a section 188 notice, as a “last resort”.

In May, the Unite union claimed BA plans to fire the vast majority of its workforce and rehire them on reduced pay and conditions. The firm told unions the previous month it was holding a consultation on as many as 12,000 job cuts.

Under the furlough scheme, 8.4 million workers are having 80% of their salaries paid for by the UK Government. It was intended to last until the end of July but was extended until the end of October. From August employers must pay National Insurance and pension contributions, and 10% of pay from September, rising to 20% in October. The Treasury has been asked for a comment.