Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 27, July 18, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Workers' Forum

Centrica Accused of Using Covid-19 to Alter Staff Contracts and Axe its Workforce

Trade unions have accused Centrica, the owner of British Gas, of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a smokescreen to force its 20,000 employees to accept worse employment contracts or lose their jobs.

Centrica is attempting to dictate to the workers and their trade unions its "fire and rehire" plans, which, in the language of the company is to "simplify" the wide range of employment contracts used across its 20,000-strong workforce, having already announced plans last month to make 5,000 redundant.

Unions have accused the company of raising the possibility of a section 188 notice [1] in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic to blackmail staff into agreeing to lower pay and tougher contract terms, following what the company says are record losses prior to the pandemic.

Unite regional officer Mark Pettifer said:

"The notice that Centrica has given the trade unions that it is going to 'fire and rehire' its 20,000 staff on what, we believe, will be inferior pay and employment conditions is deplorable. It is part of a disturbing trend where employers are using the pandemic to shed staff and erode employment conditions. Centrica is adopting the same tactics as BA and is using Covid-19 as a smokescreen to cut jobs of loyal and dedicated staff who have worked through the lockdown providing energy to the nation.

"Centrica has been in consultations with the unions for the last fortnight over its future plans and now in an act of bad faith unveils its 'fire and rehire' plans. It smacks of blackmail - 'If you don't do what we want, we will issue notice of dismissals'. Unite urges the Centrica management to have an urgent rethink and engage constructively with the trade unions to tackle the specific issues facing Centrica and, more generally, the UK energy sector post-Covid-19."

Matthew Bateman, the managing director of British Gas, told employees via a video meeting that there was a possibility that the company may need to give notice to all employees that their current terms and conditions would be ended and new terms offered. He added that the section 188 notice was "a normal legal step" which was "really, firmly our backstop position" to ensure that the talks with union representatives "don't take too long". "We know this is an emotive subject and we also know that it will cause further anxiety for our teams," he said.

The workers and their unions are taking a stand against the dictate of what the monopolies call the competitive nature of the market place. It is unacceptable that a utility company, which fulfils a public need, should put private vested interests in the first place, when what is required is a public enterprise serving the needs of society and in which the workers have a decisive say.

1. The duty to consult, set out in section 188 of the 1992 Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act (TULRCA), is triggered when an employer proposes to dismiss as redundant 20 or more employees at one establishment within 90 days or less.


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