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British Gas fire fight isn’t over

Union announces fresh wave of action as thousands of workers face the sack

BRITISH GAS is set to sack thousands of workers on Wednesday as part of a nationwide attack on pay and working conditions, with staff ready to strike in response.

The firm has torn up the contracts of engineers and office staff and pushed them to sign replacements which reportedly impose 15 per cent pay cuts and other detrimental changes.

To coincide with the firm’s deadline for the mass sacking of engineers in the dispute, Wednesday is also the 43rd day of strike action by members of general union GMB, which said that thousands “have refused to be bullied” into signing the new contracts.

The use of the fire-and-rehire strategy has sparked ongoing battles across the country.

In Manchester, more than 400 bus workers are in their second month of indefinite strike action against Go North West over the firm’s attack on their pay and conditions.

And 300 coffee workers at the Jacobs Douwe Egberts site in Banbury, Oxfordshire, have voted to strike over their bosses’ use of the tactics.

But British Gas is so far the only national case of bosses trying to force down wages, increase workloads and boost profits through the imposition of new contracts.

In February Centrica announced that it had made a profit of nearly £700 million the year prior.

From Wednesday, an official national lockout will become effective between GMB and British Gas, including further strike action and action short of a strike.

GMB said that bosses’ intransigence has already left hundreds of thousands of customers waiting for emergency repairs.

Millions more customers have been left without annual maintenance and service visits, with fears raised that British Gas may therefore have broken contracts with thousands of HomeCare insurance customers during the strikes.

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “That British Gas doesn’t  give a toss for either its customers or staff is evidenced by the mass sacking of the engineers that it badly needs to service these customers. 

“Whilst there is sadly nothing to stop a company bullying its own staff to sign terms they don’t accept, and sacking those who won’t submit to bullying, GMB members will not accept the outcome of this nine-month campaign of British Gas bullying. 

“That is why they are staging their 43rd day of strike action today.”

Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea, whose base salary last year was £775,000, has particularly drawn strikers’ fury.

Mr Bowden said: “We have news for Mr O’Shea and Centrica: this dispute will continue and become an official national lockout dispute.”

He accused bosses of treated customers as collateral and said that Mr O’Shea can expect to be “universally condemned by politicians and the public alike” for sacking workers.

“The arrogant gamble has been lost,” he said. “Any fool can start a war and, it seems, ruin a good business.

“History will not be kind to Mr O’Shea, or the Centrica board who failed to rein in him and his out-of-control leadership team.”

Centrica said GMB’s claims of a 15 per cent pay cut are “simply not true” and that the new contracts are “fair and very competitive.”

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