Over 1,000 workers attended an online meeting organised by the GMB union to discuss the next steps in British Gas engineers’ fight over terms and conditions.
British Gas used a “fire and rehire” process to dismiss around 500 engineers who refused to sign new contracts that will see workers work longer for less. Union activists estimate that around another 500 workers left the company voluntarily during the dispute. GMB members struck 43 times against the new contracts, which were finally imposed on 14 April.
With no negotiated collective agreement in place, GMB can submit a new pay claim. A consultation process to determine its contents is planned, which the new reps who have come forward during the dispute must take ownership over to ensure it is democratic and rooted in the workplace.
The need for that process to be given due time must be balanced against the need to move quickly to maintain the momentum of the strikes. Gas engineers tend to work less during the summer, so some activists argue that building up to action again in autumn and winter may be more effective. While calls for such a delay — at least partially informed by inevitable fatigue after a long and bitter campaign of strikes — are understandable, there is a risk that a lengthy pause will see the energy of the dispute dissipate.
The lack of a collective agreement also means engineers can revert to statutory standards over working time, which may have an effect on emergency working and could therefore give workers some additional leverage.
Reinvigorating union organisation in British Gas by electing new reps, activated by the strikes, to leading positions, and permanently breaking from the partnership model that characterised GMB’s relationship with the company prior to the “fire and rehire” dispute, is vital.