Labour has been accused of failing to stand up for its workers by former staff who were told they would be out of a job while they were planning to launch a collective grievance against the party over their working conditions.
The workers told BuzzFeed News that they were informed that the decision not to renew their contracts was financial, but they are now demanding answers from the party after they got wind of plans to advertise 50 new vacancies for nearly identical roles.
“We’re all Labour Party activists,” one former staff member told BuzzFeed News, “long-standing members, who’ve put our all into this party for the last however-long. We’ve worked there two, three, four years, and to be dismissed in such an unkind and cold way by an organisation that should be holding workers’ rights dear is really dispiriting. I rely on that income to pay my rent and bills.”
Staff at the party’s National Communications Centre in Newcastle, who had been working up to 50-hour weeks in the run-up to polling day, were told before Christmas that their fixed-term contracts, which expired on Dec. 31, would not be renewed.
Sources told BuzzFeed News that the former employees were left reeling after they found out the party is now planning to advertise 50 vacancies at the same call centre as it prepares to process an influx of new members and registered supporters joining to vote in the upcoming leadership election.
The former staff told BuzzFeed News that the Labour Party was behaving “like Amazon or McDonald’s” — both companies have faced criticism in recent years over their working conditions. The party had introduced extra monitoring of NCC staff, including monitoring of calls, without consulting their employees, which had caused a rift between staff and management.
Ex-staff said meetings had taken place with both trade unions and management, and that their contracts were terminated while they were in the process of bringing the grievance.
BuzzFeed News understands that Labour decided to hire new staff as there are different and specific roles required to administer the leadership election. However, ex-staff firmly disputed this, saying they were well-trained to carry out the tasks required to administer the leadership race.
On Monday, a branch meeting of the GMB trade union representing the staff resolved unanimously to ask the Joint Trades Union Council to write to party bosses asking them to explain why the decision to hire new agents had been made and urging them to offer the new vacancies to staff employed before the general election, without the need for an interview.
The letter, to party HR and management at the NCC, will argue that the manifesto Labour was campaigning on in the 2019 general election pledged to give everyone “equal rights at work from day one on the job” — yet the party still employs some of its own staff on fixed-term contracts and others on permanent contracts.
It will also ask for written justification from the party for the reasons behind the decision not to renew staff contracts when they were aware that a deputy leadership contest was coming and that a leadership contest may have been on the cards.
One former staff member told BuzzFeed News that in their view, the plan to recruit new staff had been engineered so that the vacancies were filled by those loyal to the current leader Jeremy Corbyn, while another believes that their contracts were not renewed because of the collective grievance.
Another former staffer told BuzzFeed News that in a joint trade union call for all staff on Monday, which general secretary Jennie Formby and Labour's HR director, Joe Perry, dialled into, current employees described the proposals as “vindictive.”
“While our contracts were fixed-term, we were made to believe we would continue after the election,” one former staff member told BuzzFeed News, adding that some staff had been employed specifically for the election, but others had worked there for several years.
The former staffer said they were travelling when the announcement was made and heard that their contract would not be renewed from journalists and friends before they were told by their employer.
“I loved working for the party,” they added, “it’s something I never, ever thought would happen — to be made to feel like you’re not valued, like a commodity, it really goes against the party’s ethos… It’s just not what the Labour Party should be about.”
The former staffer said their role involved responding to email queries, taking calls about membership, and various other administrative tasks, and disputed the idea that the skills required for a leadership election were significantly different.
“It is literally the same administrative tasks,” they said, “the same level of training required for both, the same skill set that we have.”
“For them to turn round and say that it’s a different role or a different job, that makes me think that it’s factionally driven, or there’s something behind this,” they added.
One former staffer said it was especially hard for staff who lost their jobs in the run-up to Christmas when they were already under financial pressure. And they said it was “outrageous” that the Labour Party had terminated the contracts of staff who were raising concerns about their working conditions.
“I think it’s outrageous,” they said. “They were increasing call monitoring, other monitoring, things they should not be doing as a Labour Party. We think that’s unacceptable and then [our contracts] were not renewed, it doesn’t sit very well… We did excellent work, beat lots and lots of targets.
”And now they’re hiring the roles to do the same work we did and were fully trained to do…the work that we do and have done very well — it just seems quite suspicious.”
“It’s very dispiriting,” they added, "because it’s the actions of what companies do to their employees; Amazon and McDonald’s, the Labour Party stands up for them, but won’t stand up for their own workers.”
BuzzFeed News understands that the Labour Party has a standard recruitment process for all vacancies which includes a full consultation with trade unions, and any new appointments would be made through a fair and open application process.
A Labour spokesperson said, “We don’t comment on staffing matters.”