British Gas strike: engineers’ action explained, what it means for you – and how to contact customer service

For those in the UK, the GMB’s industrial action is likely to be the first disruptive strike of the year – but why is it happening?

More than 1,000 British Gas workers in Scotland and across the UK began five days of strike action last week (7 January), with industrial actionexpected to last until Monday 11 January in a dispute over pay and conditions and ‘fire and rehire’ plan of company owners Centrica.

The GMB trade union said its members had been “provoked” into taking industrial action, warning of further action if the row is not resolved.

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Hazel Nolan of the union’s Scotland region, said: “While GMB members in British Gas acted as emergency workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, [Centrica CEO] Chris O’Shea and the Senior Millionaires Team of British Gas were busy plotting how to slash workers terms and conditions.

British Gas engineers will launch a five-day strike from Thursday 7 January in a dispute over pay and conditions (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
British Gas engineers will launch a five-day strike from Thursday 7 January in a dispute over pay and conditions (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“In the grip of a global pandemic, Chris O’Shea’s anti-worker, ‘fire and rehire’ agenda would set a dangerous precedent for major UK employers, opening the floodgates for widespread attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and conditions.”

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British Gas Strike: Workers prepare for five days of strike action over 'fire an...

It's the biggest dispute that the sector has seen for over 40 years, with over 10,000 members of the trade union GMB across the UK taking part.

Here is everything you need to know.

British Gas owners Centrica says it has contingency plans in place to deal with the walkout, and will 'prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies' (Photo: Shutterstock)

Why are they striking?

The strike follows a 9-1 vote in favour of industrial action by members of the GMB, which accused Centrica of planning to cut pay, terms and conditions under moves to “fire and rehire” employees.

Ms Nolan said: “GMB members are being told they’ll be sacked and then forced to accept new terms and conditions – across the board cuts in wages, pensions and leave.

GMB national official Justin Bowden said the actions of British Gas had “tarnished” its reputation, adding: “The use of fire and rehire threats has been condemned across the political spectrum and caused huge anger among this dedicated workforce.”

Centrica said it had lost too many customers and jobs in recent years, saying it was trying to protect jobs; GMB has said there has been months of negotiations with the parent company Centrica that have not been successful.

“If we are to avoid more job losses and continue, unlike most in the sector, to maintain a highly skilled team of engineers, employed directly by the company, these new terms and conditions are essential.”

Strikers will mount picket lines during the industrial action, and will be holding a socially distanced protest outside Centrica Headquarters in Edinburgh and Murdoch House in Glasgow.

How will the strike affect me?

Centrica say the industrial action will bring disruption to customers “during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown.”

Across the UK, the strike involves around 4,500 service and repair gas engineers, 600 central heating installers, 540 electrical engineers, 170 specialist business gas engineers and 1,700 smart metering engineers.

In Scotland, over 1,000 British Gas workers will be on strike.

The only exceptions to the industrial action will be dealing with emergencies and problems for households with vulnerable people, according to the union.

Centrica said it had contingency plans in place to deal with the walkout; a spokesperson said: “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.”

British Gas’ website says: “As it’s winter, our phone lines are much busier than usual so please do what you can through your online account if possible – it’ll help our call centre team answer calls from vulnerable customers and emergencies faster. Thanks for understanding and bearing with us.”