Engineers employed by Brush Electrical Machines (BEM) striking over fire and rehire cuts of up to £15,000 have now been threatened with a ‘sign or be sacked’ ultimatum, Unite, the UK’s leading union, said today (Wednesday 7 July).

The ultimatum came after it emerged that BEM, in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, had been sold by venture capitalists Melrose to private equity firm One Equity Partners. 

The 30 engineers, who live in the East Midlands but service generators around the world, have been on continuous strike since 25 May over attempts to shift them onto vastly inferior contracts.

They have now been told by BEM that if they do not sign the new contracts by 24 July they will be sacked. 

The proposed contracts include reductions to overtime rates, allowances, holidays and other terms and conditions that would result in a pay cut of between £10,000 and £15,000 a year, leaving them on wages that are well below industry standard.

BEM contend the cuts are necessary. However, its former owner Melrose described the company as a ‘profitable, cash generative business’ with a ‘a positive order backlog stretching well into 2021 and beyond’ in its accounts until the end of 2020

While executive pay at BEM for the latest financial year has not yet been published, the company’s highest paid director took home a total income of £628,000 in 2019

Unite regional officer Lakhy Mahal said: “Brush Electrical Machines, known to be a ‘profitable, cash generative business’, is treating these workers disgracefully. These cuts would leave many unable to pay their bills.  

“The pandemic is being used as an opportunity by BEM’s management to attack the pay and conditions of a loyal and dedicated workforce. Meanwhile, I sincerely doubt the company’s top brass are expected to tighten their belts by even a little bit. 

“With new owners, it is obvious that BEM wants this dispute to go away, hence the threats of fire and rehire escalating to sign or be sacked. 

“In a joint statement in late June, One Equity Partners managing director Steve Lunau and BEM CEO Chris Abbot welcomed the acquisition. But it is doubtful that Mr Lunau will welcome One Equity Partners being linked to BEM’s shameful behaviour.

“BEM are very much mistaken if they think this dispute is going to go away. Our members are rock solid in their determination to fight this and they have the power and support of their union, Unite, behind them.”   

Unite has endorsed Labour MP Barry Gardiner's private members bill to outlaw fire and rehire, which he presented to parliament in June.

Unite assistant general secretary for politics and legal, Howard Beckett, said: “It's quite clear that the public is firmly on the side of working people when it comes to the horrific practice of fire and rehire.

"There is no grey area here. They see that this is an objectionable practice that should be banned. The government has to get on the same page as the voters on this – and fast."


Engineers at Leicestershire’s Brush Electrical strike over fire and rehire cuts of up to £15,000

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Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.