Socialist Worker

Turn up heat on bosses to win British Gas strike

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2741

Picketing has maintained the momentum of the strike

Picketing has maintained the momentum of the strike (Pic: GMB)


Over 7,000 British Gas strikers took their 15th day of strikes this year on Sunday.

The GMB union members are fighting plans from parent company Centrica to fire and rehire workers on worse contracts. 

Workers hit picket lines and burnt their new contacts at the weekend.

Alex—who has worked for British Gas for two decades— told Socialist Worker that bosses are resorting to dirty tactics to try to undermine the strike.

“The company is continually playing games. We received an email yesterday of how much money they are deducting from our next pay cheque.

“They are also delaying payroll until the 8 February to deduct as much as possible. We have also been told that we can’t get overtime.”

And Alex added that the way in which workers are organised makes unity difficult.

“Working with British Gas now is quite a lonely job. We used to be on the same teams for years but now we get changed every 18 months.”

“I have joined two teams where I never met my colleagues, This is the company’s attempt to divide and conquer.”

Crisis

British Gas has tried to blame the new terms and conditions on workers not being productive enough. It’s an obvious bid to take advantage of the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

But as Alex pointed out, any change in the quality of work is down to detrimental changes that the company has made in recent years.

‘Bosses made a mistake picking on us,’ say British Gas workers ahead of further strikes
‘Bosses made a mistake picking on us,’ say British Gas workers ahead of further strikes
  Read More

Labour Party figures have said they back the strikes.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, former prime minister Gordon Brown and former Labour leader Ed Miliband have all expressed their support for workers.

But if this battle is successful it won’t be the politicians to thank. It will be the thousands of workers who have been prepared to strike repeatedly to win their demands.

The latest round of action ends on Monday.

The GMB has announced a further three lots of four-day strikes beginning on 12 February, 19 February and 26 February.

If British Gas doesn't give in to workers’ demands workers should push for indefinite action to make it clear to bosses everywhere that fire and rehire will be met with a fight.

Alex is a pseudonym

Support the strike fund: Account 33010290, sort code 60-83-01. Please include reference BGSTRIKE Cheques payable to GMB and send to BG Strike Fund, GMB National Administration Unit, St James Business Park, 81 Linwood Road, Paisley PA3 3BB

I can’t walk away from this fight

I've been working for British Gas for over 11 years. I had been trying to get into the apprentice scheme for a few years, around the time the credit crisis struck. I finally got the job in 2009 and started as an enthusiastic 22 year old apprentice.

We received a van, tools, a uniform and money at Christmas. But in the last two years, the latter two have disappeared.

I’ve had to resort to buying my own workwear as the issued uniform isn't fit for purpose.

Working in 2020 was a challenge. The start of the year personally was tough, my daughter who's coming up to seven now had been hospitalised with pneumonia the back end of 2019.

Because of this, I was furloughed on the first round of the scheme. I discovered recently that British Gas took in up to £27 million of government funding to pay our furlough. They were also claiming to staff they were continuing to pay us in full, which wasn’t entirely true.

I came back to work full time at the start of April, and have worked all the way through the rest of the pandemic.

Food

By the time summer came around we were informed of a terms and conditions overhaul. We had been going into Covid-19 confirmed houses and were even delivering food for the Trussell Trust.

At one point our managing director was seen crying on a team video call saying how proud he was of us all and what we were doing. At the same time, he was planning to decimate our terms and conditions.

As the "negotiations" were held, the Centrica CEO Chris O'Shea had already issued the fire and rehire S188 order. This really sent a message that we do what they say and we do it now.

British Gas strikers are resolute
British Gas strikers are resolute
  Read More

The strike for me is tough, I have a young family, a six year old daughter, and a two year old son, and a partner who is a self-employed childminder.

We have received no support from the government throughout this pandemic as she only began in 2019.

I can’t walk away from this fight. I'm set to lose a massive part of my February pay due to the strike but it is a small sacrifice compared to accepting the detrimental new terms and conditions.

In fact, I would be roughly £6,000 worse off if I sign up to this new contract.

If these terms come in then the business gets everything, and we get nothing. There is only one winner if fire and rehire is successful.

Writing this allows me to get things off my chest. My mental health has taken a massive blow due to this dispute. I find myself sleeping less, being more on edge, finding no enjoyment in hobbies that I used to love.

But the battle is not finished yet for us. Every day we stand together I can be proud that we all took a stand to defend what is right.

A British Gas striker


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