Unions slam British Gas-owner’s ‘fire and rehire’plan: 20,000 staff told to accept new working conditions or risk losing their jobs
Centrica could demand 20,000 staff accept new working conditions or risk losing their jobs.
The British Gas owner has been in talks with unions over the terms of contracts, which include cutting overtime pay.
The utility group – which is led by boss Chris O’Shea,– insists the changes would make it more competitive and keep jobs secure in the long term.
Working conditions: British Gas owner Centrica has been in talks with unions over the terms of contracts, which include cutting overtime pay
But unions have slammed the move as a ‘fire and rehire’ strategy that is a ‘smoke screen’ for letting go of even more employees than already planned.
Centrica said last month the group would cut 5,000 roles and multiple management layers in a major cost-cutting drive.
Now it has proposed making widespread changes to its terms of employment by giving staff notice they were in line to lose their job – and offering it back to them on the new contracts.
Employees would keep the same base pay and pension. But unions and workers are concerned because the company has also issued legal notices that mean if they don’t strike an agreement on the contract, and workers refuse to sign them, it would trigger a fresh wave of redundancies.
The firm insists this is a last resort, but has also made it clear that it must hammer out a deal before the busy winter period.
Centrica – which is led by boss Chris O’Shea (pictured),– insists the changes would make it more competitive and keep jobs secure in the long term.
Centrica has around 27,000 employees – about 20,000 of whom are in the UK – and said it has around 80 different contracts with 7,000 variations of terms.
One of the major changes being proposed is to fix overtime pay at the same rate as regular hours. Overtime wages could be as high as double the standard hourly rate, though the precise difference depends on a workers’ contract.
Engineers are often asked to work longer hours over winter, including Christmas and New Year. Unions and workers were concerned about the plans – and about how they had been timed during lockdown.
One long-time British Gas engineer told the BBC: ‘They are using this as an excuse because they know we can’t even have discussions and meetings. This really is a divide-and-conquer moment.’
Unite regional officer Mark Pettifer described the plans as ‘deplorable’ and said Centrica had been in consultations with unions for two weeks before unveiling the proposals.
Pettifer said: ‘It smacks of blackmail: ‘If you don’t do what we want, we will issue notice of dismissals’.’
Centrica had been struggling long before the pandemic struck.
British Gas has lost more than a million customers in the last two years, with many switching to cheaper ‘challenger’ energy suppliers.
But the Covid-19 crisis has piled more pressure on the company, with energy demand falling close to record lows during lockdown, as a mixture of warm weather and the mass closure of business and industry outweighed people needing to use more electricity at home.
A Centrica spokesman said the company wanted to ‘continue with constructive talks’ and the possibility of further redundancies would be an ‘option of last resort if it turns out we can’t work together to achieve this’.
Shares were up 0.2 per cent yesterday.