British Gas engineers struck for a 12th time on Monday 1 February, as they continue their struggle to force their employer to impose new contracts via a “fire and rehire” threat.
Strikes have remained solid and effective. A statement from the GMB union said that strikes “have now led to a repair backlog of more than 150,000 homes, with 200,000 routine annual boiler service visits cancelled so far this month.” Workers have held safely-distanced protests and pickets at sites around the country, including at British Gas’s headquarters in Leeds.
The next strikes are due 5-8 February.
Bosses at British Gas, and its parent company Centrica, want all workers to sign new contracts by the end of March. If they don’t, the company plans to dismiss them en masse and rehire them on the new terms. The new contracts will lead to a number of detrimental changes, including the equivalent of an overall 15% reduction in the rate of pay for most engineers. The contracts will also mean:
• A levelling down of holiday entitlement, representing a loss of up to a week’s holiday for many workers
• A move to an across-the-board 40-hour week, an increase in working hours for many workers
• A new bonus scheme that could see workers deducted pay if they are less active during certain periods of their shift
• A reduction in sick pay, to 13 weeks full pay followed by 39 weeks half pay (currently 24 weeks full pay, 24 weeks half pay)
• A three-year pay freeze for all workers except smart-meter installers
• Rostering changes representing up to an additional 156 working hours per year for some workers
• An increase in compulsory weekend working.
The new terms would also see the imposition of an app similar to those used by Amazon and others companies to monitor productivity. It would be used to log any “dead time” during shifts, and workers would then be expected to make that up.
The House of Commons Business Select Committee has called British Gas CEO Chris O’Shea to appear before the committee on 2 February, along with GMB National Officer Justin Bowden, to discuss British Gas’s use of the “fire and rehire” tactic. Numerous other employers, including British Airways, Heathrow Airport, and Tower Hamlets Council have used, or attempted to use, the tactic to drive down workers’ terms and conditions.
Despite claiming a situation of economic crisis compels it to make cuts, Centrica has a £27 billion turnover and made £901m profit in the last year. Labour MP Stephen Doughty revealed in Parliament on 28 January that Chris O’Shea had lied about the “fire and rehire” plan, claiming that British Gas had not issued the Section 188 notices of redundancy sent to workers as part of the process, when in fact the notices had been issued in July 2020, before negotiations with the GMB had even begun.
A GMB statement said: “Either Chris O’Shea was in denial about the dysfunctional way he’s running the business, or he deliberately lied to a Member of Parliament representing their constituents.”
• A strike fund for the workers has so far raised £36,750. Donate to the strike fund here