Engineers ready to strike again amid British Gas 'fire and rehire' row


Engineers across the UK are preparing for strike action next week

Coverage of the recent strike action over the plans from Centrica, British Gas's parent company, was taken over by events in America and reports on Covid.

Those strikes were taken against the moves which Centrica says are necessary for modernisation and saving well-paid jobs in the long term.

But employees of the company are taking further action, with thousands of engineers planning to put down tools on January 20, 22, 25 and 29 as well as February 1, union GMB said.  

One of those is William Keenan, who has been an engineer with British Gas for 18 years.

Mr Keenan, 57, from Orton Waterville, is planning to join next week's strike after being confronted with a list of new conditions to accept or risk losing his job from a company that made more than £900m operating profit last year.

Under the new terms he has been offered he would need to work three hours a week more with no extra pay, lose three days holiday per year, and accept changes to his statutory pay conditions.

In addition, there would be changes to bank holiday conditions and the work roster would alter from a six-month plan to a rolling six-week schedule, meaning that he would not be able to plan to book time off at any point beyond that. 

Mr Keenan, who took part in the first five-day strike last week, said: "I would consider what is going on to be morally wrong. It would be illegal in Spain and Ireland.

"In the press releases Centrica have said that a large majority of employees have accepted the changes, but I would guess that also includes backroom staff who would not be so affected. In actual fact the strike ballot was accepted by over 86% of engineers. 

"They waited until after the first lockdown to announce this, even when we have worked all the way through it."

On at least one occasion Mr Keenan volunteered to enter a home where the occupant was upstairs suffering from Covid.

She had already been down to allow access to the home through the garage, and Mr Keenan carried out the work in PPE, before later double-bagging his clothes for them to be treated. 

Engineers have also been helping out at food banks throughout the Covid pandemic.

He added about the job situation: "Questions about this have been asked of Boris Johnson who said he would be looking into it all with ACAS (workplace expert for England, Scotland and Wales).

"A lot of older engineers will probably stay because of their pensions, but the younger ones will go and that could create a shortage of engineers down the line."

The cause has been taken up by celebrities including Judge Rob Rinder, who has described the action as disgraceful and urged people to sign a petition against the move, which now has more than 80,000 signatures.

Centrica has confirmed that the action will not affect emergency call-outs.

A spokesman said: "Over 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."