Pressure grows on British Gas over ‘fire and rehire’ as British Airways backs down
Pressure was today mounting on British Gas owner Centrica to U-turn on its controversial “fire and rehire” plans, while British Airways appeared to back down from its similar stance.
The energy giant has been accused by unions of forcing 20,000 British Gas employees to accept worse contracts or risk losing their jobs. Workers face changes to conditions including their working hours and holiday entitlements under the plans.
British Gas followed British Airways in drawing the ire of unions with proposals to rehire 30,000 workers on lower pay and perks. Yesterday Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer condemned the practice of giving staff notice of redundancy and then hiring them back on worse pay and conditions.
MPs have now intervened, with 23 signing an early day motion calling for the company to withdraw its Section 188 notice of potential redundancies.
Labour MP John Cryer, who brought the motion, told the Standard: “A lot of British Gas engineers will be on good terms and risk losing those. They are skilled, valued engineers. If half the country has its terms and conditions ground into the dirt, it’s just wrong. Where will it end?”
He added: “The Government is going to be forced to make an intervention as it’s a not sustainable to have a strike at such a critically important business.”
Southwark MP Neil Coyle said: “For people who are more vulnerable to Covid it’s important their home is properly heated to avoid hospitalisation. There are also hundreds of thousands of people still working from home and people need heating in their homes.”
Centrica has argued using the Section 188 notice is a last resort and there will be no change to base pay and pensions. It said that “constructive discussions” are ongoing.
The talks with 20,000 staff are on top of the 5,000 redundancies announced in June, although sources said these may be pared back to maintain customer service levels.
Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said “The use of Section 188s really was a rarity until its infamous use by British Airways. It’s been described as an insurance policy which is a disgusting euphemism for saying agree or have this done to you.”
Separately, British Airways today backed down from its “fire and rehire” plan as its boss appeared before MPs.
The airline has seen trading destroyed by the Covid pandemic, which triggered 12,000 job cuts.
Chief executive Alex Cruz told the House of Commons transport committee: “There will be no need to issue new contracts. No need to fire and rehire.”
Cruz said that, while job cuts with pilots were quickly agreed, its attempts to get unions representing the rest of its staff to negotiate were tricky. “I frankly regret that it took such a long time for the other unions to sit down,” he said.
Cruz claimed it took 73 days to get unions to sit down and they had been invited to 500 different meetings.
Cruz said final agreements had not been made but were imminent.