Thousands British Gas workers are going on strike for five days - here's why

Thursday, 7th January 2021, 11:26 am
Updated Thursday, 7th January 2021, 2:23 pm

Thousands of British Gas workers have embarked on a five day strike today (7 Jan) over a dispute with the company regarding new contracts.

Both engineers and call centre workers are expected to take part, after 89 per cent of the GMB trade union voted in favour of industrial action.

The strike is predicted to cause “massive disruption”, with parent company Centrica saying it will prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies during the strike.

Why are they going on strike?

The trade union, GMB, have voted in favour for industrial action in response to an attempt by the firm to push through pay cuts by threatening to fire workers.

GMB has accused Centrica, which owns British Gas, of provoking the strike action, after months of tense negotiations between union representatives and energy company executives.

Centrica is being accused of “bullying'' its 20,000 employees into accepting worse employment contracts or losing their jobs, as part of a so-called “fire and rehire” plan.

British Gas has seen significant losses in its market value over the last five years, which has dropped by more than three quarters. The firm had asked all employees to sign up to new employment contracts to help simplify the business.

In June, Centrica said it planned to city around 5,000 jobs to “arrest the decline” of the company, amid its falling market value.

A Centrica spokesperson said: "We've done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action.

"While we've made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown.”

Justin Bowden, GMB’s national secretary, said: “British Gas boss Chris O’Shea’s attempts to bully workers into accepting cuts to their pay and terms and conditions has provoked this inevitable outcome – massive disruption to customers in the depths of winter and a stain on the reputation of a historic company and brand.”

A previous version of this article stated that 9,000 staff would take part in strike action.

A British Gas spokesperson said: "We only have 7,500 engineers and only 52% voted for the strikes so we don’t expect the figure to be anywhere near that high.

"We don’t have a finalised number for how many decided to actually do it but should do by end of play today."