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‘Customers will lose out’: Fife gas engineers stage last ditch protest in ‘fire and rehire’ row

Scottish Gas employees held a last ditch protest against the company's fire and rehire policy.
Scottish Gas employees held a last ditch protest against the company's fire and rehire policy.

Fife gas engineers embroiled in Centrica’s “fire and rehire” row have been given until Thursday to sign new contracts or face the sack.

Workers staged a last ditch protest in Leven against “bullying” on the part of the energy giant, which owns British Gas and Scottish Gas.

Around 20,000 employees across the UK face being sacked then rehired on significantly reduced terms and conditions.

The move affects 4,500 Scottish workers, including service and repair engineers and central heating installers.

One Fife employee said those who signed the contract would have to work longer hours but would end up £8,000 to £12,000 a year worse off.

“I don’t know how they’re getting away with it,” he said.

“It’s just bullying and I’ve never felt so low.”

The Fife engineers have held protests at Windygates roundabout every Friday and Monday since January.

A deal offered by the company was rejected by 79% of workers and is also bitterly opposed by trade unions.

“We’re the guys who install and service your boilers, “the employee said.

“We’ve been striking for 34 days now.

“The second we rejected their deal the company moved up their plans to sack us.

“We now have until March 25 to sign the new contract or be fired.

“There would be no redundancy payment – after 18 years of loyal service from me – and we wouldn’t be entitled to any help from the government.”

‘Customers will lose out’

The man said he was in limbo and still hadn’t decided what to do.

“I can put my tail between my legs and just sign but my earning potential will change massively,” he said.

“We’re all out there fighting against this.

“If it goes through, we’ll lose, the company will lose and most importantly the customers will lose out.

“Four Fife engineers have left in the last two weeks and taken 100 years of experience with them.”

More than 250,000 homes across the UK are already in a backlog for repairs as a result of the strikes.

A further 350,000 planned annual service visits have been axed.

GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said: “The company needs to understand its fire and rehire plan is the big obstacle to members accepting a deal.

“They must withdraw it now.”

He added: “The behaviour of British Gas bosses is hurting workers, customers and ultimately company shareholders.”

‘Exploitative practice’

Glenrothes SNP MP Peter Grant labelled the fire and rehire process “exploitative” and said it should be banned.

He said Centrica’s threat was particularly unacceptable given the ongoing Covid pandemic.

His colleague Gavin Newlands MP has submitted two Bills to Parliament calling for the process to be made illegal.

But despite receiving cross-party support, the Government has refused to back it.

“Beyond the warm words for workers, there has been no action from the Prime Minister to actually protect them from this exploitative practice,” Mr Grant said.

“At a time when households have been pushed into hardship and many people have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, punishing workers by threatening them with the sack unless they accept reduced contract terms and working conditions is unacceptable.”

Centrica ‘sorry for disruption’

A Centrica spokesperson responded: “Our business needs to change to survive and protect 20,000 UK jobs.

“We have plans in place to manage industrial action, but we’re sorry for any disruption this is causing to our customers.

“We will continue to prioritise vulnerable customers and emergency situations.”

The company added that it has offered “a fair deal”, negotiated over 300 hours with unions – where base pay and pensions are protected.

More than 80% of employees have already agreed to the new terms, they said.

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