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Centrica aims "to protect jobs" as British Gas strike starts

Vulnerable households and emergencies will be prioritised as winter bites and country is gripped by lockdown

Dominic Ellis
|Jan 7|magazine5 min read

Centrica maintains it is in "urgent need of change" and introducing new terms and conditions to protect jobs and maintain a highly skilled teams of engineers, as GMB members at British Gas embarked on a national five-day strike today.

GMB conducted a strike ballot of 9,000 members in December 2020 in which it claims 89 percent voted in favour of industrial action, in response to 'fire and rehire’ cuts - a figure contested by Centrica, which reports it was 52 percent. Various pickets are planned across the country, in line with Government guidance.  

In a statement, Centrica said 83 percent of its workforce has already accepted new terms, in which base pay and pensions are protected.

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

"We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure we will still be there for customers who really need us, and we’ll prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies.

"GMB’s mandate for strike action is weak; they are fighting against modernisation and changes which will help to protect well paid jobs in the long term and are doing so at a time that our country needs everyone to pull together."

Justin Bowden, GMB 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 an historic company and brand".

"GMB is calling on the public to ask why British Gas CEO Mr O’Shea is provoking an engineers’ strike with ‘fire and rehire’ pay cuts, in the depths of winter. This is against the backdrop of the company reporting operating profits of £901m in the latest available annual accounts."

Centrica completed the sale of its North American energy supply, services and trading business, Direct Energy, to NRG Energy Inc. for $3.625bn this week.

Chris O’Shea, Centrica Group Chief Executive, said: "This sale is an important step in the turnaround of Centrica, allowing us to materially strengthen our balance sheet and become a more focused energy services and solutions company – putting customers at the heart of everything we do and helping them transition to a lower carbon future."

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