Socialist Worker

Reject Centrica blackmail on jobs and pay cuts

Issue No. 2714

British gas workers struck in 2005

British Gas workers struck in 2005 (Pic: Duncan Brown)


Centrica, the owner of British Gas, will tell thousands of workers to accept new conditions, including no extra overtime pay, or risk losing their jobs.

The firm said if its employees don’t sign the contract, there will be a fresh wave of layoffs. Centrica has already outlined 5,000 job cuts.

The proposals are all subject to a consultation period with unions, the company said.

Workers are furious that this is being done during a pandemic and lockdown.

“They are using this as an excuse because they know we can’t even have discussions and meetings,” a British Gas engineer who has worked for the firm for more than 15 years told the BBC. “This really is a divide and conquer moment.”

Centrica proposes to fix overtime pay at the same rate as regular hours.

Previously, overtime could attract double the hourly rate, depending on a ­worker’s contract.

Engineers who might previously have been asked to work shifts between 8am and 8pm in the busier winter period could be allocated hours any time between 6am and 11pm.

Painful

“What is really painful is that when this coronavirus kicked off, we all rose to the challenge,” said the engineer.

He and other British Gas workers volunteered to deliver meals for vulnerable people for the Trussell Trust.

This gave him and his colleagues a sense of purpose, he said, together with continuing to repair broken heating systems during lockdown.

“We were going into houses. We were ­feeling proud as we were key ­workers,” he said. “It’s a huge slap in the face.”

Christina McAnea of the Unison union branded the bosses’ move “disgraceful behaviour”.

“Employees have worked hard throughout the past few months to ensure customers are well-served, despite the pandemic,” she said.

“This is no way for company directors to repay them.” Unions must reject this blackmail and fight.

Other employers, such as British Airways, are also using the threat of job losses to worsen contracts.

Unions at Ryanair agreed to pay cuts in exchange for “assurances” over jobs.

And contracts are under attack at Tower Hamlets Labour-run council.

“Fire and rehire” plans could sweep away the employment terms of thousands of workers.


Strike call at Edinburgh Napier University

Unison union members are to vote on strikes at Edinburgh Napier University after the employer moved to make at least 60 staff compulsorily redundant.

The union is also calling on Richard Lochhead, the minister for higher and further education, to intervene and enforce the Scottish government’s claimed fair work standards.

The ballot ends on 16 August.

Unison organiser Lorcan Mullen said,“If members support our call for industrial action, and if Napier continues down this destructive path, Unison will be able to call strikes in freshers’ week and the first week of teaching.”


Fight for Port Talbot jobs

Steel firm Tata is reported to be preparing mass redundancies at its Port Talbot plant in South Wales.

The company was expected to announce that it will shut two blast furnaces and replace them with electric arc furnaces.

This could lead to thousands of job losses.

The Community union said, “If this report is accurate then this plan has been developed without any consultation with the workforce, which is an absolute disgrace.

“We are seeking urgent clarification from Tata—but rest assured, the unions will not accept the end of blast furnace steel production at Port Talbot.

“Steel production accounts for half the jobs at Port Talbot and this plan would devastate the town.

“If necessary we will be prepared to fight to protect our members’ livelihoods and the future of our industry.”

A major fightback is certainly needed now.

For years a succession of companies have butchered steel jobs and workers’ conditions in the pursuit of profit.

And too often the union leaders have relied on cooperation with bosses and the government rather than resistance.

As recently as 24 June the GMB union welcomed government measures to aid the steel industry.

It said, “Ministers have intervened in a way not seen during modern times to help keep the economy moving throughout this crisis.”

Every job must be defended.

But the unions should also demand a nationalised and democratically-run steel industry that can be ecologically sustainable.


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