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Government urged to stop Twitter creating ‘digital P&O’ amid job cuts

The Government has been urged to intervene to stop Twitter creating a “digital P&O”, as the company carries out sweeping job cuts to save money.

The social media company began widespread staff cuts around the world on Friday, with suggestions as many as half of its more than 7,500 staff could be axed in what the company called “an effort to place Twitter on a healthy path”.

New owner Elon Musk is thought to want to drastically reduce costs at the company after completing his 44 billion dollar (£39 billion) takeover of the platform last week, since tweeting “we need to pay the bills somehow”.

Prospect Union, which represents thousands of technology workers, including Twitter employees in the UK, said in a letter to Business Secretary Grant Shapps the firm had acted “in an unacceptable way”.

Elon Musk to buy Twitter
The offices of Twitter in Air Street, central London (Aaron Chown/PA)

It said: “From the communications to staff that our members have shared with us, it looks increasingly likely that the company could ride roughshod over our existing employment procedures and protections for redundancies.

“These including the need to properly consult and to select those affected fairly.

“It is totally unacceptable that anyone should be treated in such a manner. I hope that you will agree with me that the government must make it clear to Twitter’s new owners a digital P&O would not be acceptable and that no-one is above the law in the UK, including big tech barons.

“It is clear that Twitter are treating their employees in an unacceptable way, locking them out of company platforms without notice and communicating only by impersonal emails.

“It seems highly likely that Twitter should have informed your department of these planned redundancies.”

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) confirmed it had received the letter.

Simon Deakin, a professor of Law at the University of Cambridge, said if 100 or more employees are sacked within a period of 90 days, the Business Secretary must be notified 45 days before the first dismissal.

Where there are more than 20 but fewer than 100 potential losses, the period is 30 days.

Professor Deakin said: “If there’s no effective notice given here then there could be a fine, so the employer or director could be fined.

“And the fine currently doesn’t have a limit and it’s a criminal offence.

“If they are making 100 workers redundant then there’s a possibility of a criminal offence being committed, we don’t know the full story, what is the establishment and maybe they have given notice.”

He went on: “If a criminal offence has been committed then there would be a prosecution organised by the insolvency service and that could lead to criminal liability either for the company or conceivably for a manager or director.”

In his first tweet since the cuts began, Mr Musk said: “Twitter has had a massive drop in revenue, due to activist groups pressuring advertisers, even though nothing has changed with content moderation and we did everything we could to appease the activists.

“Extremely messed up! They’re trying to destroy free speech in America.”

He also replied to posts and memes from users about advertising on Friday evening.

Online safety groups and campaigners have expressed concerns about Mr Musk’s plans to allow more free speech on the site and reverse permanent bans given to controversial figures, including former US president Donald Trump.

There have been reports that some advertisers have been concerned about the possibility of such figures returning and appearing alongside their adverts on the site.

An internal email sent to staff on the job cuts on Friday said the action to cut jobs was “unfortunately necessary to ensure the company’s success moving forward”.

Staff have been told that everyone will receive an email by 9am PST (4pm GMT) on Friday, with those who are affected by the cuts set to receive the message on their personal email address rather than the one associated with their work.

Staff have since taken to Twitter to confirm they are leaving the company, with some revealing they have been logged out of their work laptops and internal messaging systems.

Twitter employee Simon Balmain told Sky News: “We started hearing strong rumours about layoffs a few days ago, which I’m sure everybody heard about because it leaked quite quickly to the press.

“Late last night we all received an email saying there is going to be a large reduction in headcount and the email stated that if we would be laid off, it would go to our personal email and if not to our work email.

“And it was about an hour after that, this is in the early hours of the morning UK, like 2am, that I noticed my work laptop was remotely wiped and my email access and Slack access were both revoked.

“And then I got in touch with a few colleagues, and it seemed a lot of people were seeing the same thing.”

A BEIS spokesperson said: “We are watching what is happening at Twitter with interest.

“While we cannot comment on the individual cases, we expect companies to treat their employees fairly and our thoughts are with those who have lost their jobs.

“There are clear rules companies must follow when making large numbers of redundancies which includes consulting with staff and notifying the Redundancy Payments Service.”