An Edinburgh British Gas worker has spoken of outrage after the company’s boss was caught “celebrating” Covid headlines ahead of further strike action planned for this month.
Around 7,000 employees carried out five days of strike action last week, with workers at Centrica’s British Gas set to carry out the second series of five one-day strikes, starting next week.
It comes following a dispute over proposed changes to work pay and conditions, with GMB, the union representing British Gas workers, claiming the company is using “fire and rehire” tactics to cut workers’ pay.
According to one Edinburgh gas engineer, who wishes to remain anonymous, the company has gone behind workers’ backs during the pandemic.
He said: “When the pandemic hit, some of us got furlough and some of us had to work on essential jobs.
“Many of us agreed to go into positive Covid houses, not for extra money or extra holidays but because it’s your job, because you know that customer needs heating and hot water and loads of engineers went out and helped deliver food parcels.
‘The company never forced us, it’s something we thought is the right thing to do but while this was all going on the company was making these T&C changes behind our back.”
GMB say workers have been provoked into strike action, with a strike ballot of 9,000 members in December 2020 seeing an overwhelming 89% vote in favour of industrial action.
The Edinburgh worker claims the terms and conditions give workers less security and more hours while warning that timescales for completing jobs could lead to potentially dangerous mistakes.
He said: “The company wants us to now to do 40 hours a week all year round, instead of 37, and not pay us an extra three hours. It works out at over 100 hours I will be working extra all year and not getting paid for it.
“My work week will now be Monday to Sunday 7am-9 pm, instead of Monday to Friday 8am-4 pm and I’ll have to work a Saturday or Sunday if I’ve not worked 40 hours yet.”
He added: “I’m having a baby and want to spend as much time as possible with her and my family. I work hard enough not to be put under even more pressure.
“The timescales for carrying out jobs are also just totally unreasonable. I work with gas and these changes are just going to compromise safety because you will always be rushing.”
“How can fire and rehire be legal, it’s illegal in many counties. When I sign a contract I need to hold up my end of the deal and so does the company but what’s the point in a contract if a company can just rip it up at any time they see fit,” he commented.
He has also blasted British Gas’s Managing Director, Matthew Bateman, who was accused of “celebrating a global pandemic” after a video was leaked of a recent conference call.
The boss credited the coronavirus pandemic and US Capitol riots with keeping striking workers out of the news, stating there had been “relatively low coverage”.
Centrica has lost over 75 per cent of its value over the past five years as British Gas customers shop about for cheaper energy suppliers but Chris O’Shea, Centrica’s chief executive, has said that its 2020 profits will be higher than expected.
A spokesperson for Centrica said: “We’re operating in an incredibly competitive market and British Gas has lost too many jobs and too many customers over recent years.
“We can’t continue like this. We need to take action to modernise and refocus the company in line with what our customers need now, not what they needed 20 years ago.
“Our pay for engineers will remain the highest in the sector, but we need to get productivity back to where it used to be and for some, we need to increase the working week from 37 to 40 hours.
“We’re not changing base pay or pensions and we will reward increased productivity through additional bonuses. 83 per cent of our employees have already accepted the new terms – including the majority of our engineers. Our changes are ultimately to protect and create jobs for the future.’’
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Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said: “A profitable British Gas provoked their loyal staff into strike action in the depths of winter by refusing to heed their overwhelming rejection of the fire and rehire pay cuts.
“They have now ignored a five-day demonstration by the engineers that the proposals are not acceptable.
“They are forcing further disruption on their customers all the way into next month because of the new strike dates.
“British Gas should recognise that the only way to end the disruption they provoked is to take fire and rehire pay cuts off the table.”
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