More than 1,000 British Gas workers in Scotland will begin five days of strikes this morning, as part of the biggest dispute seen in the sector for over 40 years.
In a direct response to the ‘fire and rehire’ plan for British Gas operations laid-out by Centrica Group’s chief executive Chris O’Shea, over 10,000 GMB union members across the UK will take part in the action.
Socially distanced picket-lines will be in place at both Centrica headquarters at Waterfront Avenue in Edinburgh and Murdoch House in Uddingston, Glasgow.
Last June, Britain’s largest energy supplier said it planned to cut around 5,000 jobs – almost 20% of its global workforce – and change the terms of worker contracts.
The proposals would allow it to terminate existing contracts and offer fresh terms, known as a section 188 notice.
A statement from GMB said that O’Shea has refused to accept efforts to negotiate a way forward for the business. Instead, after months of talks, workers have been told to accept cuts to wages and conditions, or face being sacked.
All British Gas divisions and services, including Service & Repair, Electrical Services, Smart Metering, Installations and Customer Services will be impacted.
GMB Scotland senior organiser for commercial services Hazel Nolan said: “In the grip of a global pandemic, Chris O’Shea’s anti-worker agenda would set a dangerous precedent for major UK employers, opening the floodgates for widespread attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and conditions.
“GMB members are being told they’ll be sacked and then forced to accept new terms and conditions – across the board cuts in wages pensions and leave.
“Centrica are turning a once great British industrial institution into a cowboy contractor, so we have no choice but to fight-back.”
A Centrica spokesperson responded that while progress has been made with other unions, “the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown”.
They explained that contingency plans are in place to ensure vulnerable households and emergencies will be seen to during the strike.
“More than 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,” added the Centrica spokesperson.
UNISON, which represents the majority of customer facing office colleagues, voted 86% to accept the new proposal.