By Tom Haslam
GMB shop stewards representing 6,000 British Gas engineers have called a number of one-day strikes in the battle to defend their pension rights and the rights of future workers.
Twenty-four hours strikes are due to take place on 12, 19, 21 December plus 6 and 9 January. In addition there will be a ban on out of hours cover from and including 12-23 December and 4-10 January.
Stewards were also keen to put in place emergency cover arrangements to provide a service to the elderly and those with young children. The engineers are responsible for domestic work, but not the mains, so alarmist tabloid reporting that has warned of the strikes leading to a Christmas fuel shortage and a three day week in industry etc are just plain ridiculous.
The dispute has come to a head because British Gas’s parent company Centrica plans to close the final salary scheme for engineers in January. Instead they want to impose a new scheme on new starters with lower employer contributions and a career-average rather than final-salary based payout, which will mean reduced benefits for virtually all engineers. These attacks come despite the fact that engineers recently voted to increase their own contributions by an extra 1% of their salary and the scheme is fully funded.
Engineers have seen how the employer has tried to cut the pension benefits of existing white-collar staff after first closing their pension scheme to new entrants with the promise that existing members would be protected. They are not prepared to see the same thing happen again and have drawn a line in defence of future workers and themselves.
The British Gas engineers are showing that the fight over pensions has to be waged in defence of both existing rights and future workers and not by pitting one against the other. As one GMB steward put it: “You would have to be soft in the head not to see that once the trade union agrees to close a pension scheme down to new members, the employer will soon be back looking for more cuts in benefits. “ Wise words indeed, pity the leaders of some other trade unions haven’t worked that one out.
The engineers work from home so the focus for the days of action will be at British Gas offices and show rooms. A national protest will take place on Monday 12 December at British Gas HQ in West London. Supporters will be welcome.