Socialist Worker

Unions have to hit back after British Gas sackings

by Sophie Squire
Issue No. 2749

British Gas workers have remained determined throughout their strikes

British Gas workers have remained determined throughout their strikes (Pic: Guy Smallman)


British Gas workers are furious and frustrated after receiving the bosses’ final ultimatum to sign a punitive new contract or face the sack.

The GMB union has announced a one-day walkout on 14 April—the date when all those who haven’t signed will be fired.

Around 7,000 workers have already struck for an impressive 42 days to stop parent company Centrica’s fire and rehire plan.

Up to 1,000 strikers refused to sign in the face of the vicious tactics by bosses

Ben, a British Gas worker, says the workers who didn’t sign the new contract are being left in the dark by the company and the GMB. “On a GMB call for members the union barely mentioned those of us who refused to sign,” he told Socialist Worker.

“Instead, they went on about what trousers we wanted to wear for work in summer. We were looking to the union to give us support and leadership but many of us didn’t get the answers we needed.”   

The inaction of the union leaders has led Ben to try and organise among workers around him. “I’m part of a group of 50 workers who haven’t signed,” he explained. “We have a short amount of time to appeal our dismissal so I’m trying to write a template for others to use to do this. 

“I’m also searching for legal advice to see if there’s a way to move forward.”  

Some workers have decided not to continue working for British Gas. Dean, a British Gas engineer who has decided to leave the company, can’t “see a way of working here anymore”. “I’ve been round to my van today and taken my personal belongings out of it,” he told Socialist Worker.

“I’m starting to feel depressed and very lonely. I tidied my van up so it’s ready to give back. I’m worried that they will just turn up on my doorstep and ask for the keys.”

“It feels like my heart is being ripped out of my chest. I didn’t and don’t want to leave this company but I cannot stay.”

System 

Dean added that he’s nervous bosses will try to charge him for “missing tools” he never had because of British Gas’ inaccurate inventory system.

Workers were right to refuse to sign inferior contracts. But those that signed, did so because of the company’s constant bullying and the failures of the GMB bureaucracy to provide proper leadership at key points in the dispute. 

British Gas should be a warning to the whole of the trade union movement.

What’s behind the surge in ‘fire and rehire’ attacks?
What’s behind the surge in ‘fire and rehire’ attacks?
  Read More

It has been clear from the beginning that British Gas has used ruthless tactics to force through fire and rehire plans and attempt to break resistance. Now bosses everywhere will be thinking that they could do the same

Ben pointed out that only by escalating strikes and militancy can workers unite and beat this dangerous practice. “A national walkout of bus drivers, NHS workers and care home workers could mean the end of fire and rehire,” he said.

“It could make the government act,” he said. 

The GMB should call for an all-out strike of its members in British Gas, whether they have signed the contract or not. They should also call on those who aren’t in the unions or are in other unions at the company to support it.

That sort of action could be sustained by the whole trade union movement.

Workers' names have been changed 

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