British Gas engineers in the GMB union continued strikes against the imposition of new contracts via “fire and rehire”, from 19-22 March, with further strikes planned on 26-29 March.
British Gas says it will dismiss the entire workforce en masse, and rehire only those who have agreed to the new contracts, on 31 March. GMB has advised its members to sign the contracts by 25 March, writing in an email to members: “If you plan to stay with British Gas after March 31 and intend to ultimately sign a new contract, our lawyers’ advice is to do so by noon on March 25 if you want to avoid the loss of protected terms and changes you have fought for.”
The implication of the GMB’s email is that workers not signing by 25 March will lose the slightly improved terms negotiated in a recent proposed settlement, which offered improved pay protection. GMB members voted by a 79% majority, on an 88% turnout, to reject this proposal and continue with strikes.
British Gas has been conducting individual consultations with workers, which are being used to pressure engineers into signing the new contracts.
An additional complication is added by the fact that, for the dispute to continue beyond the imposition date of the new contracts, a new ballot may be necessary, as the initial dispute centred on the method of imposition (i.e., “fire and rehire”) rather than the substance of the new contracts itself.
That ballot, if it proves necessary, should begin as soon as possible. British Gas engineers have demonstrated incredible resolve throughout the dispute, striking for nearly 40 days at the time of writing. The turnout and outcome of the referendum on the settlement surely shows a will to continue fighting.
GMB activists say that the strike has helped to draw increased numbers of workers into regular union activity, creating the potential to renew and revitalise GMB organisation in British Gas. If British Gas is able to impose most of the detrimental changes to terms and conditions it always planned to, that will be a setback for the workers. But if, through the course of their dispute, they have strengthened and renewed workplace organisation, that provides a higher platform for renewed struggles to reverse those changes.