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One of the great puzzles emerging from the last year has been why, in spite of COVID, repeated lockdown, and surging self-isolation, recruitment agencies have seldom been busier.

Employment levels are still rising and unemployment has – so far – not become the scourge many anticipated.

In theory, such a tight labour market should generate increased salaries, and employers’ wage costs should be rising. But, overall, they aren’t.

One explanation is that in the unique circumstances of the pandemic, employers have been forcing new, less favourable, terms on their employees.

Many workers are accepting new terms, knowing that if they don’t they may be dismissed or made redundant and then have to compete for jobs they have done for years – only with less pay and fewer benefits – a practice that has become known as “fire and rehire”.

Employers argue that COVID has accelerated change in the workplace that means that they need new kinds of flexibility from the workforce – over work breaks, or severance packages, for example – or else they will go out of business.

In straitened times, the alternatives, as they see it, are lower wages or fewer jobs.

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Research by the TUC suggests that nearly one in 10 workers have been asked to reapply for their jobs since the start of lockdown in March 2020, with young people and minorities more likely than most to face the pressure.

FILE PHOTO: A British Airways plane taxis past tail fins of parked aircraft near Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, March 14, 2020
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BA was accused of using the controversial tactic as it cut jobs during the pandemic

Major disputes have blown up in big employers such as British Airways and British Gas.

Amina Patel, a worker in adult social care in the London borough of Tower Hamlets, told me that for many of her colleagues, currently voting on a strike proposal over the issue, their anger isn’t just about money.

“It’s disrespectful. It makes you angry,” she said.

“The biggest betrayal was being fired and rehired at the height of the pandemic after everything we’d given, and still continue giving.”

Tower Hamlets Council said they “consulted extensively” with staff over changes to terms and conditions and that “no staff are on worse conditions, or pay, or have been dismissed as a result of the changes”.

Labour backbencher and former leadership contender Barry Gardiner has now tabled draft legislation that would make the practice of “fire and rehire” unlawful.

File photo dated 27/11/19 of Barry Gardiner who has been sacked as shadow international trade secretary as new Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer begins to assemble his new shadow cabinet.
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Barry Gardiner says a change in the law is needed to protect workers

He wants to “stop managers intimidating the workforce… and going for the nuclear option right from the beginning. What I want to see is proper negotiation”.

He claims cross-party support, and points to Boris Johnson’s condemnation of employers who use dismissal as a negotiating tactic.

The government has asked ACAS to come up with new guidance for employers, though Mr Gardiner insists that change will only come through legislation.

Either way, research by ACAS makes clear that as furlough and other COVID support measures are withdrawn, the fight over “fire and rehire” is likely to become both more intense and more widespread.

Watch Trevor’s full report on Trevor Phillips on Sunday from 8.30am.

He will also be talking to Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth.

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Sam Bankman-Fried: Founder of bankrupt crypto firm FTX breaks his silence, with thousands locked out of savings

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Sam Bankman-Fried: Founder of bankrupt crypto firm FTX breaks his silence, with thousands locked out of savings

A crypto entrepreneur says his net worth has fallen from $26.5bn to $100,000 after his company imploded.

Sam Bankman-Fried admitted it has been a “bad month” after FTX collapsed into bankruptcy, leaving thousands of people frozen out of their savings.

The 30-year-old – who once positioned himself as a saviour for stricken firms – has been accused of misusing customer funds and moving $10bn out of the company in secret.

To make matters worse, reports suggest that at least $1bn has vanished.

But speaking at the New York Times’ DealBook summit, he insisted that he has never tried to commit fraud, and said he was “shocked” at how things unfolded.

FTX now has fresh management as it navigates bankruptcy, with its new CEO declaring that he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls” during his 40-year career.

It has been claimed that funds belonging to FTX users was mixed with funds at Alameda Research, a trading firm that Bankman-Fried also ran.

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FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that operated around the world, collapsed as panicked traders pulled $6bn out of the company in just three days after a series of bombshell allegations.

Speaking via video link from the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried said he now has “close to nothing” following his company’s failure – and is down to one working credit card.

He has admitted that his businesses “completely failed” when it came to risk management, and said this was “pretty embarrassing in retrospect”.

“Whatever happened, why it happened, I had a duty to our stakeholders, our customers, our investors, the regulators of the world, to do right by them,” Bankman Fried added.

While the embattled entrepreneur believes that American users should be able to get their money back in full, Bankman-Fried has warned in other interviews that international customers may only get 20% to 25% of the money they had locked into FTX.

A number of companies in the cryptocurrency sector have collapsed in recent months, coinciding with a sharp drop in the value of Bitcoin.

Some businesses have been accused of offering interest rates on savings that were simply too good to be true, while others have been likened to “Ponzi schemes”.

The Bahamas has now launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding FTX’s demise.

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HSBC to close dozens more bank branches

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HSBC to close dozens more bank branches

HSBC has announced plans to shut a further 114 UK branches – over a quarter of its surviving sites.

The UK-based but mainly Asia-focused bank said those affected would be shut from April next year.

The decision, as the wider banking sector has consistently claimed over many years, is the result of the surge in online banking.

It has led to declining demand for over-the-counter transactions with HSBC saying that some of those to be shut were dealing with fewer than 250 people per week.

It was unclear, at this stage, what the closures would mean for jobs.

The bank said it was to invest tens of millions of pounds in updating and improving its remaining branch network, which will total 327 once the closures have been completed.

Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s managing director of UK distribution, said: “People are changing the way they bank and footfall in many branches is at an all-time low, with no signs of it returning. Banking remotely is becoming the norm for the vast majority of us.

“The decision to close a branch is never easy or taken lightly, especially if we are the last branch in an area, so we’ve invested heavily in our ‘post-closure’ strategy, including providing free tablet devices to selected branch customers who do not already have a device to bank digitally, alongside one-to-one coaching to help them migrate to digital banking.”

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Joules administrator on brink of rescue deal with Phase Eight-owner Foschini

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Joules administrator on brink of rescue deal with Phase Eight-owner Foschini

The administrator to Joules, the collapsed fashion retailer, is on the brink of a rescue deal with the South African owner of Phase Eight.

Sky News has learnt that The Foschini Group (TFG) is close to securing an agreement to buy the majority of Joules’ stores and assets.

One source said a deal could be struck as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

If completed, it is likely to see roughly a quarter of Joules’ 132 shops closed, with the loss of “several hundred” jobs.

A more precise figure for store closures and redundancies could not be identified, with Interpath Advisory, the administrator, refusing to comment.

It remains possible that an alternative buyer such as Next or Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group could yet trump TFG’s interest with a last-ditch offer.

TFG, which also owns the women’s fashion brands Hobbs and Whistles, had been in discussions with Joules for several weeks about investing in the business prior to it calling in administrators this month.

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Based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, Joules operates a total of 132 stores across the UK, employing over 1,600 people.

Its stores have remained open during the administration process.

Will Wright, head of restructuring at Interpath and joint administrator, said earlier this month that Joules was “one of the most recognisable names on the high street, with a unique brand identity and loyal customer base”.

“We have had an overwhelming amount of interest from interested parties.

“We will be working hard over the days ahead to assess this interest, but at this stage we are optimistic that we will be able to secure a future for this great British brand.”

Joules had been in talks with Next about a strategic investment earlier in the autumn but the two sides were unable to agree the terms of a deal as the smaller company’s share price continued to sink.

It then hired Interpath to consider an insolvency procedure – known as a company voluntary arrangement – that would have allowed it to slash its overheads through store closures, rent reductions and job cuts.

Joules said in August that it was aiming to secure an equity investment of about £15m, after warning that it would deliver a loss bigger than previous market expectations.

It also appointed Jonathon Brown, a former John Lewis and Kingfisher executive, as its new CEO.

Joules has been listed on the London stock market since 2016, having been founded in 1989 when Tom Joule began selling clothes from a country show stall in Leicestershire.

TFG could not be reached for comment.

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