British Gas engineers in the GMB union will strike for the 43rd time on 14 April, the latest date British Gas has set for the imposition of new contracts. Engineers who have not agreed to the new terms by that date face dismissal, as British Gas uses “fire and rehire” tactics to force through changes.
The new contracts were due to be imposed on 1 April, but workers were informed by letter of the extension to 14 April. No reason was given for the change. British Gas says workers who do not accept the new contracts will be dismissed, with pay in lieu of notice, but no redundancy package.
Justin Bowden, the GMB’s National Secretary, said: “Sacking his own highly skilled, qualified and experienced workers on April 14, because they would not submit to his reckless corporate bullying is the ultimate measure of failure from [British Gas CEO] Mr O’Shea. There are no legal checks on this forcing of signatures under duress. The British Gas workforce is united in utter disgust and anger against the Centrica [British Gas’s parent company] senior management team led by Mr O’Shea. This disgust and anger will be manifest across the country on April 14. This dispute is far from over.”
The union says that “an official national lockout dispute between British Gas and GMB will become effective from April 14”, and that it will pursue “further strike action and action short of a strike.”
The resolve shown by the British Gas strikers in taking repeated and sustained action in a period of very few prolonged strikes is inspiring. It is a dispute that deserves more than noble defeat.
For GMB to call only a one-day strike at this stage seems a token gesture, and is a step back from the pattern of four-day strikes the union has been organising.
Thus far, the dispute has focused on the method of imposition of the new contracts (i.e., fire and rehire). To force concessions, the focus must be put on the substantive issues — pay cuts, longer hours, productivity monitoring, and more.
An escalation of action is also needed. British Gas has not budged significantly despite the sustained pressure of numerous four-day strikes. An indefinite strike must be considered, funded with adequate strike pay.