Hundreds of British Gas engineers will lose their jobs by midday on Wednesday after a long-running dispute called a “fire and rehire scheme” by the GMB Union, in which engineers are asked to agree to new terms or face dismissal.
The workers were expected to agree on the changes by 1 April, but the deadline was postponed by two weeks to give those who hadn’t signed the contract time to reconsider.
Under the new contract, full-time engineers would be required to extend their working week from 37 to 40 hours per week, start the working day in the customer’s home rather than their own home, and would not be paid a higher rate to work on weekends and bank holidays.
Most trade unions and employees accepted the terms, it is understood that 500 have refused to sign by the end of Tuesday. British Gas anticipates a final round of eleventh-hour contract signing, leaving between 300 and 400 engineers jobless.
The GMB has gone on strike for more than 40 days in recent months in protest against the new terms. The protest has resulted in a backlog of millions of customers waiting for service visits and hundreds of thousands waiting for emergency repairs.
GMB regional secretary Justin Bowden said, “The British Gas leadership disaster reaches its low point on April 14th with mass sackings of British Gas Engineers, in the only consistently profitable part of the company, by a management team too stupid to see the true value of uniquely skilled and loyal workforce”.
“With hundreds of thousands waiting in the backlog for service, customers have been treated as collateral and so it seems too will staff, as MR O’Shea prepares to go down in history as the first major FT listed CEO to carry out mass sackings of his highly skilled and qualified engineers whilst his customers are waiting for visits.”
A spokesperson for British Gas said it was changing its business model and believe the changes are reasonable.
“There is a job for everyone at the end of the process. We are changing the way we work to give our customers the service they want and protect the future of our company and 20,000 UK jobs,” the spokesperson said.
Centrica, the owners of British Gas has lost more than three-quarters of its market value in the past five years, and the suppliers recently reported the lowest earnings on record.