Crunch time for British Gas engineers to agree new contract terms

Darren Staples / Alamy Stock Photo

British Gas engineers who have refused to agree to changes to their working hours and pay are expected to lose their jobs today.

A long-running dispute with members of the GMB Union centres around what the union is calling a “fire and rehire” scheme – whereby engineers are asked to agree to new contract terms or face dismissal.

The workers were originally expected to agree to the changes by 1 April, but British Gas had given those who hadn’t signed the contracts an additional two weeks in order to change their minds.

The changes being made by British Gas include extending engineers’ working weeks from 37 to 40 hours per week; asking engineers to begin their working day in the customer’s home rather than their own home; and the removal of higher rates of pay for weekend and bank holiday work.

A spokesperson for British Gas parent Centrica said that its contracts remained highly competitive and that its changes were reasonable.

“There is a job for everyone at the end of this process. We are changing the way we work to give our customers the service they want and protect the future of our company and 20,000 UK jobs,” the spokesperson said.

“Around 98% of the entire company has accepted and we hope the remaining, also sign and choose to stay. We have not cut base pay or changed our generous final salary pensions. Our gas service engineers remain some of the best paid in the sector, earning £40,000 a year minimum.

“While change is difficult, reversing our decline which has seen us lose over three million customers, cut over 15,000 jobs and seen profits halved over the last 10 years is necessary. The changes will also unlock our ability to grow jobs and hire 1,000 green apprentices over the next two years.’’

However, the GMB Union, whose members at British Gas are staging their 43rd day of strike action today, described the company’s actions as “bullying”.

“The British Gas leadership disaster reaches its low point on April 14th with mass sackings of British Gas Engineers – in the only consistently profitable part of the company – by a management team too stupid to see the true value of a uniquely skilled and loyal workforce,” said GMB regional secretary Justin Bowden.

“With hundreds of thousands waiting in the backlog for service, customers have been treated as collateral and so it seems too will staff – as [Centrica chief executive] Mr O’Shea prepares to go down in history as the first major FT listed CEO to carry out mass sackings of his highly skilled and qualified engineers whilst his customers are waiting for visits.”

Earlier this year, O’Shea told MPs on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee that organisations needed a way to easily implement changes to employees’ terms and conditions “under limited circumstances”.

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