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Employment

Thousands of British Gas workers strike over ‘fire and rehire’ row

Socially distanced picket-lines are in place across the country with more than 1,000 workers on strike in Scotland alone

Thousands of British Gas workers have begun five days of strike action over so-called “fire and rehire threats” by the energy giant.

Engineers and call centre employees nationwide stopped working after talks with bosses over restructuring plans broke down. 

Union GMB, which is fronting the action, alleges staff are at risk of losing their current jobs and being forced to reapply and accept diminished terms and conditions.

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Last June, parent company Centrica announced plans to make some staff redundant and renegotiate contracts with other employees. Unions described the plans as “detrimental” and said they would amount to increased working hours for no extra pay. 

GMB allege that bosses then attempted to “bully” workers into accepting the cuts by threatening to terminate their contracts and rehire them on new terms. 

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Over 10,000 GMB staff at British Gas were balloted in December and 89 per cent voted “yes” to strike action. The union said it would be the “biggest dispute seen in the sector for over forty years” and urged executives to “think again”.

Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “British Gas boss Chris O’Shea’s attempts to bully workers into accepting cuts to their pay and terms and conditions has provoked this inevitable outcome – massive disruption to customers in the depths of winter and a stain on the reputation of a historic company and brand. 

“GMB is calling on the public to ask why British Gas chief executive Mr O’Shea is provoking an engineers’ strike with ‘fire and rehire’ pay cuts in the depths of winter.”

Centrica said it had done everything it could to avoid industrial action, adding 83 per cent of workers had already agreed to new terms. 

A spokesperson said: “Whilst we’ve made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown

“We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure we will still be there for customers who really need us, and we’ll prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies.  

“Over 83 per cent of our workforce have already accepted our new terms, in which base pay and pensions are protected, including a significant majority of GMB members.” 

Centrica bosses insist they are trying to protect jobs in a challenging market, but GMB said British Gas reported operating profits of £901m in the latest available annual accounts. 

The union added socially distanced picket-lines would be in place across the country, with more than 1,000 workers on strike in Scotland alone. 

All British Gas divisions and services will be impacted, including service and repair, electrical services, smart metering, installations, and customer services. GMB has said no vulnerable elderly households would be impacted by the strike.

Bowden added: “GMB members from Lands End to John O’Groats have stayed home, stayed safe and supported the first national gas strike in a decade. 

“The months and months of fire and rehire pay cut threats from British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea have provoked thousands and thousands of GMB engineers and call centre staff to strike, the only option left to them by a business that made £901m operating profit yet still plans to sack them because they won’t accept the scale of cuts it demands.”

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