Published: 07:53, 20 January 2021
| Updated: 11:41, 20 January 2021
British Gas workers who have downed tools in a row over pay are holding a protest at Bowaters roundabout in Gillingham this morning.
Employees of the firm who have gone on strike across the country say they are being threatened with "Fire and Rehire" and are protesting against what they describe as "disgusting new terms and conditions being proposed by British Gas".
British Gas employees say they are fighting for their rights
The employees say they have been told they have until the end of March to sign the new contracts or they will be fired.
This is the second round of strikes in as many weeks, with staff saying they feel they have no other alternative as British Gas has not entered into any meaningful negotiations with the Union, GMB.
It is claimed the new Terms and Conditions would see engineers and other employees lose thousands of pounds a year and would have a detrimental effect on family and well being.
Justin Bowden, GMB's National Secretary said: “It’s time for the Centrica board to wake up and smell the gas.
"Centrica’s problems were not caused by the loyal engineers, call-centre workers and back-office staff who have done everything asked of them over years of boardroom mismanagement but yet again it’s their jobs that are in the firing line.”
A statement from one engineer at the strike, who wished to remain anonymous said: "Firstly none of the British Gas engineers want to strike we love our customers and we want to get back to doing what we do, fixing heating systems and boilers for our customers especially at this time of year. We are not asking for more money all we want is a reasonable work-life balance without pay cuts.
"We are striking because we have no other option left as the company have refused to talk any further. British Gas are threatening to fire and rehire us on much worse terms than our current contract. Severe multiple negative changes are being pushed through!
"Centrica/British Gas bought a gun in the name of fire and rehire at the start of consultations and then placed that gun on the negotiating table back in the summer to its entire workforce, engineers and office staff.
"This is after we were still recovering from the first wave of the pandemic which British gas engineers had been working through as key workers providing heating and hot water to our customers even the ones who had been isolating with positive covid tests which we continue to do. In addition we
were praised for the volunteering work engineers did in British Gas's name for The Trussel trust food banks during the first wave of the pandemic. Whilst this was going on the company decided to fast track their reorganisation plans to coincide with the covid pandemic. Centrica/British Gas has a viable operation but they still insist they need to make these severe changes."
He said the company had threatened engineers that they would lose various terms of the proposal if they didn't agree before a deadline two days before Christmas, adding: "This has created so much anxiety and stress amongst the workforce creating a toxic workplace. This is the action of the worst of the worst companies, they have never intended to get into a proper negotiation otherwise they would of never of bought the gun of fire and rehire in the first place. So they have seized the opportunity of Covid and are trying to push through these changes or dismiss the engineers without any redundancy payments. This sort of practice shouldn't be allowed for any organisation and were gob smacked that a company which most of us have given decades of loyal service to would treat us this way.
"The CEO has no respect for his workforce and says he needs to save the company but all we ask is that he takes his loyal workforce with him and stops digging away the foundations of this company as this will eventually lead to the house we all work within falling down. We are not adverse to change which we regularly accept through negotiations over the years and we would accept further changes if the they were balanced fair and necessary."
The engineers state proposed changes include: one months worth of working hours extra with no extra pay; a new rolling six week roster; normal working day shift extended an extra two hours a day; reduction in overtime payments in the winter; reduction in out of hours payments; reduction in holidays; worse sickness entitlements; delayed overtime payments; removal / reduction in London and South East allowances payments; removal of weekend payments and bank holiday payments; earlier start time of 1/2 hour before shift; and a three year pay freeze.
A statement from Centrica said: "We have strong contingency 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’re operating in an incredibly competitive market and British Gas has lost too many jobs and too many customers over recent years. We can’t continue like this. We need to take action to modernise and refocus the company in line with what our customers need now, not what they needed 20 years ago. Our pay for engineers will remain the highest in the sector, but we need to get productivity back to where it used to be and for some, we need to increase the working week from 37 to 40 hours.
"We’re not changing base pay or pensions and we will reward increased productivity through additional bonuses. 83 per cent of our employees have already accepted the new terms - including the majority of our engineers. Our changes are ultimately to protect and create jobs for the future."