British Gas workers on strike to condemn the practice of “fire and rehire” - Dispatch Weekly

January 7, 2021 - Reading time: 6 minutes

Thousands of British Gas engineers and call centre workers will down tools from Thursday as part of a national five-day strike in response to the energy giant’s “fire and rehire” plans.

The GMB trade union called the strike after 89% of its 9,000 British Gas members voted in favour of industrial action following the breakdown of talks with executives at Britain’s biggest energy supplier last year.

The union expects the majority of the 7,000 engineers and 2,000 call centre workers who are part of its membership to take part, but will limit picketing due to coronavirus restrictions.

The union accuses the chief executive of standing in the way of GMB in negotiations over a future deal for the company. Instead, after months of talks, workers were told to accept drastic cuts in wages and conditions.

All British and Scottish Gas divisions and services, including Service & Repair, Electrical Services, Smart Metering, Installations, and Customer Services will be impacted.

Centrica during COVID 19 pandemic

Centrica executives created their own crisis by exploiting workers during the COVID 19 pandemic, according to a new report by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITC).

“Today is CEO payday, Chris O’Shea will take home a pre-bonus wage of £775,000 and Centrica have recorded a £901 million operating profit for 2019,” Hazel Nolan the GMB Scotland senior organiser for commercial services said.

“While GMB members in British Gas acted as emergency workers during the COVID19 pandemic, Chris O’Shea & the senior Millionaires Team of British Gas were busy plotting how to slash workers terms & conditions. 

In the grip of a global pandemic, Chris O’Shea’s anti-worker, ‘fire and rehire’ agenda set a dangerous precedent for major UK employers, opening the floodgates for widespread attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and conditions.

Gmb members have been told they will be made redundant and then forced to accept new terms and blanket pay cuts. Centrica has turned what was once a great British industrial institution into a cowboy.

“We have no choice but to fight-back.”

Socially isolated pickets have been set up by the Fire and Rescue Workers Union (FWRU) and the National Union of Firefighters (NUF). The union said the industrial action was an “emergency” and would cause “significant damage to the health and safety of our members.”

A Centrica spokesman said: “GMB leadership is stuck in the past and fighting modernisation and does not understand that customer needs are changing, customers want better appointments and GMB needs more flexibility to meet them. Customers turn to us because we cannot and must not change the way we work.

The majority of our workforce, including thousands of GMB members, accept that change is needed and that the new terms and conditions are fair. I now expect that well over 75% of my colleagues will be voting in favour by the end of the year.

Mr Amesbury reaction in Parliament

East Runcorn MP Mike Amesbury has branded gas company Centrica as “deplorable” over “threatening” to sack staff and rehire them on changed terms.

Mr Amesbury, Labour, used a Commons debate to call on the Government to condemn the practice of “hire and fire”.

Why fire and rehire ?

The cost of bringing on new employees is usually expensive. Rehiring a worker may mean reissuing equipment and restarting emails. That’s still thousands of pounds cheaper than onboarding and training a new employee. 

Another cost-saving in bringing back a former employee, according to aid Heidi Shierholz, a labour economist at the Economic Policy Institute.: “You don’t have to, for example, do reference checks. You already know all about this work because they were already your worker. You are the best reference.”

DW Staff

David Lintott is the Editor-in-Chief, leading our team of talented freelance journalists. He specializes in covering culture, sport, and society. Originally from the decaying seaside town of Eastbourne, he attributes his insightful world-weariness to his roots in this unique setting.