Workers of UK’s major energy supplier, British Gas, are set to enter the second day of their five-day strike on Friday, January 8. They are protesting the management’s plan to restructure workers’ contracts and the ‘fire and rehire’ threats to cut down workers’ benefits and rights after terminating existing contracts and offering fresh terms. The call for the strike was given by GMB union after 89% of its 9,000 members in British Gas voted in its favor last month. This was after negotiations with the management had failed. Thousands of engineers and customer service workers are part of the strike but demonstrations have been confined to limited pickets across the UK in light of the rise in COVID-19 infections.
The protesting workers accuse the British Gas management of forcing its 20,000 workers to choose between less favorable employment contracts or loss of their jobs. The workers claim that the management’s insensitivity has forced them to go on strike and disrupted the company’s services. As per GMB national secretary Justin Bowden, attempts by British Gas boss Chris O’Shea to bully workers into accepting cuts to their pay and terms and conditions has provoked this inevitable outcome, which has led to massive inconvenience to customers in the middle of winter. O’Shea is the chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas.
“GMB is calling on the public to ask why Mr O’Shea is provoking an engineers’ strike with ‘fire and rehire’ pay cuts, in the depths of winter. This is against the backdrop of the company reporting operating profits of £901m (USD 1,225m) in the latest available annual accounts,” Bowden said. He called it a stain on the reputation of a historic company and brand.
A cross party group of around 140 British MPs had signed a letter to O’Shea last month highlighting their objection to the fire and rehire strategy of British Gas. They asked the management to refrain from such anti-worker blackmail tactics. A similar plan was proposed last year by the management of British Air and was met with resistance from the trade unions.
The Socialist Party has expressed solidarity with the striking workers of British Gas. According to reports, this strike is likely to be the biggest gas strike since the 1970s.