British Gas engineers struck again from 19-22 February, in an ongoing battle to prevent their employer from dismissing its workforce en masse and rehiring them on worse conditions. The strikes succeeded in eliciting a new offer from British Gas, which was due to be issued to workers on Wednesday 24 February, and voted on over the weekend of 26-27 February. As Solidarity went to press on 23 February, strikes planned for 26 February-1 March were still due to take place.
A previous round of strikes, due for 12-15 February, were called off, after British Gas agreed to further talks at conciliation service Acas. The GMB union says talks have “faltered”, and insists British Gas must withdraw its “fire and rehire” threat if negotiations are to be meaningful. Prior to the suspension of the 12-15 February strikes, British Gas indicated it would “suspend” the threat, but without the threat being categorically withdrawn, union reps say they are negotiating “with a gun to our heads.”
22 February was the 22nd strike day in the dispute. British Gas has currently set a 1 March deadline for the imposition of new contracts, which would see some engineers working up to 156 additional unpaid hours annually. The new terms represent a 15% cut in the basic rate of pay for most engineers, and also involve increased productivity monitoring via apps similar to those used by Amazon and other employers.
Prior to the 19-22 February strikes, a backlog of over 210,000 domestic repairs had built up, with 250,000 annual service repairs cancelled.
GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “Talks at Acas faltered because the company refused to end the fire and rehire notice. GMB entered into these Acas-brokered talks in good faith, but a deal is only possible if the company takes the fire and rehire plan off the table.”
Throughout the dispute, reps and activists have continually highlighted the damaging impact the new contracts would have on pay and work-life balance. To risk narrowing the dispute into one against the method of the new contract’s imposition, rather than its content, is wrong.
Strikes must continue not only until “fire and rehire” is off the table, but until British Gas abandons its plan to force engineers onto worse contracts.