Four-day strikes after uproar against British Gas contracts

By Lizzie May

Gas company staff have staged strikes in uproar against proposed new contracts that they claim would force employees to accept worse conditions or risk losing their jobs.

British Gas workers and local trade unionists in Lewisham campaigned outside Livesey Hall in Lower Sydenham last week in a four-day strike against new contracts.

Union GMB has argued that British Gas owner Centrica is attempting a fire-and-rehire policy.

They insist that staff would be under ‘worse’ working conditions including general pay cuts and no extra overtime pay, or risk losing their jobs.

GMB said the company sent “Section 188” legal letters to the entire UK workforce, which gives an advanced notice that an employer intends to dismiss staff.

Lewisham Councillor Alan Hall joined campaigners outside the historic gas workers’ building, Livesey Hall in Bell Green. He said: “Let’s turn up the heat on British Gas.”

In a letter to Centrica board members, Cllr Hall wrote: “It is incredibly disappointing to see that you intend to fire and hire your employees on worse terms and conditions, and this in the middle of a global pandemic.

“GMB has been willing to negotiate and come to talks with you, but you won’t take the threat of fire and rehire off the table – that hardly strikes me as an employer negotiating in good faith.

“This is not how a reputable company should treat its workforce. It’s disgraceful.

“Many of your employees have children and families and caring responsibilities.

“For a company that used to be seen as a great place to work, it is understandable to see the anger from staff who want to protect their precious family time.”

National secretary at GMB Justin Bowden told the Business Select Committee that he had not seen so much pressure put on workers to accept new contracts before.

Chris O’Shea told MPs on the committee that the situation was taking a toll on him personally.

Mr O’Shea said: “My wife and teenage son had a package of excrement delivered to them with a note about fire and rehire.

“This is something that affects absolutely everybody. I’m not immune to this.”

A Centrica spokesperson explained that they have lost 3m customers over the past ten years and they have reached a deal with all unions except GMB.

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

“We know change is difficult but we have offered a fair deal that has been negotiated for over 300 hours with unions, where base pay and pensions are protected.

“83% of our employees have already agreed to the new terms.”

Pictured: Barbara Plant, President of GMB holding the flag 

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