A Fife gas engineer caught up in the “fire and rehire” row fears other companies could follow Centrica’s lead.
Across the UK, 20,000 employees of British Gas and Scottish Gas, owned by energy giant Centrica, are facing changes to their terms and conditions which are being fiercely opposed by the GMB trade union.
One Fife-based Scottish Gas employee, who asked to remain anonymous, said the company was using “divide and conquer” tactics to bully staff into signing up to the new terms before they are effectively sacked and forced to return on new contracts.
And he said if allowed to go ahead, the “fire and rehire” approach could set a precedent for other companies.
“It’s not just about British Gas and Scottish Gas. A lot of businesses are waiting in the wing and watching what’s happening,” he said.
“If British Gas gets away with this, just ripping up all of our terms and conditions to suit them, then this will become a domino effect for the rest of the country.”
Workers have been staging strike action against the proposals which include starting their working day on arrival at their first job.
Centrica, which insists it is trying to protect jobs, says the request for staff to work an extra three hours a week is “reasonable”.
But the GMB has said its members could be working up to eight extra unpaid hours a week.
The engineer added: “The workforce is where the value is. We’re the guys that go out and fix the boilers, fix your electrics and do your plumbing jobs, but they just see us as being too costly.”
He said the new contracts would also require staff to increase productivity, raising fears about safety.
“Every hour that you work they want you to squeeze in more work,” he said.
“Effectively what they’re doing is they’re underhandedly asking us to compromise on safety, which doesn’t sit well with me at all.”
The employee claimed management had used “every underhand tactic that they could think of” to force workers to accept the changes.
“They’re using divide and conquer tactics, personal phonecalls trying to force us to sign contracts,” he said.
“Everyone in this country has gone through the strangest year, probably in our lifetimes with coronavirus and that in itself creates a lot of stress. The business hasn’t protected us as well as I think it should have done. We’ve just been expected to go in and out of customers’ homes.
“And in the background they’ve been scheming away, with this fire and rehire, and that’s how we’ve been repaid.”
Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Alex Rowley described the treatment of Scottish Gas workers as “shocking”.
He said: “These workers have over the last year, as normal, been on the frontline supporting and helping people whenever they were called upon to do so.
“I hope every customer of Scottish Gas will let them know that this treatment of their staff is neither sensible nor justifiable and must stop.”
A Centrica spokeswoman said 83% of the company’s workforce had already agreed to the new terms.
However the engineer said the 83% included office staff and contractors, who were not significantly impacted by the changes.
The spokeswoman added: “Our business needs to change to survive and protect 20,000 jobs. We know change is difficult but we have offered a fair deal that has been negotiated over 300 hours with unions – where base pay and pensions are protected.”
In an online rally, GMB Scotland organiser Hazel Nolan said Centrica boss Chris O’Shea had “lost the argument in the dressing room”.
She added: “He’s lost the argument with the politicians and he’s lost the argument with the customers.”
Ms Nolan told workers to “hold the line”, adding: “If they can divide us more than we can unite, they will win this.”