British Gas workers’ strikes against their employer’s plan to worsen its workers terms and conditions by sacking them en masse and re-engaging them on new contracts continued on 22 and 25 January, with further strikes planned on 29, 30, 31 January, and 1 February. More strikes are expected after that.
Although bosses at Centrica, British Gas’s parent company, claim that “base pay and pensions are protected” under the new terms, British Gas workers say they face a real-terms pay cut of up to 15% in the hourly rate, in part because of the imposition of additional hours.
Some workers could face an additional 156 hours unpaid working time annually, with others facing between five and eight hours of additional unpaid working and travel time per week. Bosses also plan to monitor staff productivity via the use of apps similar to those use by Amazon to monitor warehouse workers. At safely-distanced protests and pickets across the country, some workers burned copies of the new contracts.
The strike has been supported by the Labour Party, and the Labour government in Wales and Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, have both written to British Gas demanding the “fire and rehire” threat is withdrawn.
British Gas has set an end-of-March deadline for all workers to accept the new contracts, and claims 83% of its workers “have already agreed to the new terms”. However, this figure in fact refers to workers who expressed only provisional agreement to the new contracts prior to a 23 December deadline, and is drawn from a wider pool than the workers involved in the present dispute. Anyone expressing that provisional agreement was given incentives to do so, including financial bonuses and protection of holiday allowance. British Gas has now said that workers who indicated provisional agreement will lose those incentives if they do not formally accept the new contracts by 5 February.
Meanwhile, GMB reports strong participation in the strike from that cohort, with numerous workers contacting the union to affirm that, despite having ticked the pre-23 December box, they will not be signing to accept the new contracts. The strikes are a much clearer and more reliable illustration of the feelings of the workforce than British Gas’s misleading figure.
A poll conducted by polling agency Survation found that almost three quarters of British Gas customers oppose the “fire and rehire” threat, and 76% say that, if Centrica needs to make savings, senior management salaries and shareholder dividends should be cut before workers’ terms and conditions.
Although the current primary focus of the strikes is on forcing bosses to withdraw the “fire and rehire” threat, mobilisation will need to be maintained in order to defeat attempts to impose detrimental changes via other means. GMB national officer Justin Bowden has said British Gas “should be using incentives and persuasion to get changes, not force”, but if the changes it wants to “get” are detrimental to workers’ interests, then GMB should continue to resist them — whatever means bosses use.
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