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Ashford British Gas workers protest contract changes on Orbital Park roundabout

Gas workers took over a prominent roundabout to protest what they deem are unfair contract changes.

Engineers with British Gas set up a picket line today on the Orbital Park junction in Ashford, erecting banners and holding up placards.

Some of Ashford's British Gas employees have joined a nationwide strike against contract changes. Picture: Andy Jones
Some of Ashford's British Gas employees have joined a nationwide strike against contract changes. Picture: Andy Jones

The strike, partly organised by union GMB, was in opposition to new terms and conditions that employees had to agree to on December 23.

Among those on the picket line was Colin Maybee, who has worked at the company for 30 years.

The Willesborough resident said: "Basically, they changed our contracts without discussing it with the union, and it will remove or reduce a lot of the things which most benefit us as British Gas employees.

"In essence, one part of the contract allowed them to say to us 'If you don't accept these terms, we're going to fire you in early 2021and rehire you with our new terms.'

"After 30 years at British Gas, I'm always pretty proud to put on my uniform and do my best. It is hard to fight the hand that feeds you but sometimes it has to be done."

Colin Maybee, an employee of 30 years, contracted Covid-19 in the line of duty. Picture: Andy Jones
Colin Maybee, an employee of 30 years, contracted Covid-19 in the line of duty. Picture: Andy Jones

The changes come amid the Covid-19 pandemic, through which My Maybee and his colleagues have worked.

The 46-year-old said: "I was pragmatic about it. When they asked people as we were coming out of the first lockdown whether anyone would be willing to work in Covid-positive homes there were only two of us on our patch who agreed.

"More people have agreed to since, and at the end of the day you just have to step up and get involved.

"We get people to go into a different room, and some customers you don't even see at all - we just talk over the phone or through a window.

"It's just something we've had to get on with, but while we were doing it someone was in the background changing our contracts."

Engineer Paul Kent was among those protesting on the Orbital Park roundabout
Engineer Paul Kent was among those protesting on the Orbital Park roundabout

The Ashford protest comes amid nationwide striking, which has run from Thursday until today.

However, a British Gas spokesman said: "Only 52% of the eligible GMB membership has voted to support strike action - this is a very weak mandate - it is clear the GMB leadership does not have popular support across their membership for this course of action.

"Over 83% of our employees have accepted our employee changes to terms and conditions, including the majority of engineers, but a minority continue to refuse our reasonable asks to work an extra three hours per week (on top of 37 hours) in line with the rest of their colleagues, and to start their working day in the customers home, rather than in their own home.

"We’ve done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action.

'They are fighting against modernisation...'

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

"Over 83% of our workforce have already accepted our new terms, in which base pay and pensions are protected, including a significant majority of GMB members. This shows most of our people understand that our business needs to change because customer needs are changing.

"GMB’s mandate for strike action is weak; they are fighting against modernisation and changes which will help to protect well paid jobs in the long term and are doing so at a time that our country needs everyone to pull together."

Mr Maybee questioned the veracity of the statistics, with GMB suggesting 90% of the engineer workforce has been striking over the last five days.

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