British Gas staff may strike over changes to contracts

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British Gas employees have threatened to strike over claims it is forcing staff to accept worse employment contracts or face dismissal.

Ninety-five per cent of 10,000 GMB union members at British Gas and its subsidiary PH Jones voted in favour of industrial action in a consultative ballot held earlier this month, on a turnout of 67.5%.

This is not an official ballot for strike action and signals that employees would be willing to strike if an agreement was not reached.

The union claimed British Gas had threatened to dismiss people who did not sign new contracts which are said to offer less favourable terms and conditions. The plans are believed to affect its entire workforce of 20,000.

Parent company Centrica told trade union and employee representatives that it may give employees notice of termination and offer to re-engage them in the same job with the same base pay, but with new terms and conditions of employment.

In June, Centrica announced plans to make 5,000 staff redundant and make changes to pay, terms and conditions as part of a restructure to a more customer-focused model. It has since issued the statutory HR1 and s188 notices to its union and employee representatives to indicate it would make redundancies at the end of November as a “last resort”.

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “Centrica bosses are holding a box of matches and threatening to set fire to the terms and conditions of this loyal and dedicated workforce. It’s a complete and utter betrayal of the British Gas and PH Jones brands.

“The company have already burnt through the confidence of its staff. Today’s 19 to 1 vote demonstrates GMB members are not prepared to tolerate fire and rehire threats and are determined to have their own ‘insurance policy’ too. It’s time for the Centrica Board to wake up and smell the gas.”

A spokesperson for Centrica said its terms and conditions would be in line with the market average and there would be no changes to base pay. Pensions would also be protected.

“We know that change can be very difficult and we are doing all we can to support our people – but we urgently need to act now to win back customers, grow our company and protect more jobs in the long run,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to reaching a negotiated settlement this year which sets us up for future success, and we hope our unions  – who have also agreed that change is needed – share that desire as we continue our ongoing negotiations.

“Our colleagues’ base pay and pensions will be protected, but simplifying and modernising working practices and their terms is essential if we’re to become more flexible in delivering for our customers – giving them what they want, when they want it, at a price they’re willing to pay.”

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