All four SNP MPs and MSPs in Dundee have signed a letter supporting striking British Gas workers.
Shona Robison, Chris Law, Stewart Hosie and Joe FitzPatrick signed a letter to Centrica, which owns British and Scottish Gas, calling for an end on proposals to “fire and rehire” service and repair engineers.
Labour called on the UK Government to maintain “all existing employment rights and protections” including the 48-hour working week and set out a timetable by the end of January to “introduce legislation to end fire and re-hire tactics”, during an opposition debate in the House of Commons on Monday.
The party warned scrapping the 48-hour week may be the “thin end of the wedge and risk hours spiralling out of control for hundreds of thousands more workers if a reverse 15% increase occurs”.
Tenth day of strike on the way
British/ Scottish Gas (the trading name of Centrica) engineers are staging their eighth strike in a dispute over pay and conditions.
Members of the GMB union are embroiled in a deadlocked row, with more industrial action planned later this week and into February,
The union claimed on Monday the backlog of customers waiting for service is nearing 150,000 as a result of the industrial action, a figure the company disputes.
Union members staged a ceremonial burning of new contracts last week.
There will be further strikes on January 29, 30 and 31, and February 1.
Union claims working conditions worse off
GMB national officer Justin Bowden said: “The backlog of households awaiting services for British Gas is growing at treble the 6,000 per day the company admits.
“At the end of strike day eight, the backlog will have grown to more than 150,000 household waiting for services.
“The fire and rehire changes being imposed on engineers mean hourly pay rates would be 15% below agreed pay rates along with other worse term and conditions.”
Stewart Hosie, SNP MP for Dundee East, said: “I’m extremely disappointed that, five months after my original letter to Centrica, many of my constituents are still fighting these unscrupulous tactics, particularly given the admirable voluntary work carried out by British Gas workers in the area throughout the pandemic.
“These are people who have worked tirelessly over the last year to provide an essential service to British Gas customers and in return are now facing the sack if they don’t sign away their favourable terms and conditions.”
Company apologises to customers
A spokeswoman for British Gas owner Centrica said: “We’re operating in an incredibly competitive market and British Gas has lost too many jobs and too many customers over recent years. 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 – we’re not cutting base pay and pensions are protected.
“Eighty-three percent of our employees have already agreed to the new terms and we believe the vast majority of our workforce understand that the company needs to change.”
British Gas added: “We’re sorry we are having to reschedule some work but we are catching up within 24 hours.
“The majority of our workforce are not on strike and are working incredibly hard to ensure our customers are taken care of.”
Fire and rehire ‘unacceptable’
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told MPs that the practice of firing and rehiring workers is “unacceptable”.
He said: “We have been very clear that this practice is unacceptable and (minister Paul Scully) has condemned this practice in the strongest terms on many occasions in this House.
“We have engaged Acas to investigate the issue and they are already talking to business and employee representatives to gather evidence of how fire and rehire has been used.
“Acas officials are expected to share their findings with my department next month, in February and we will fully consider the evidence that they supply.”
He continued: “I just want to make something very clear and unequivocal at the outset – we will not reduce workers’ rights.
“There is no Government plan to reduce workers’ rights. As the new Secretary of State I have been extremely clear that I do not want to diminish workers’ rights and on my watch there will be no reduction in workers’ rights.
“I do not want there to be any doubt about my or the Government’s intentions in this area.”
He added: “We will not row back on the 48-hour weekly working limit derived from the working time directive, we will not reduce the UK annual leave entitlement, which is already much more generous than the EU minimum standard, we will not row back on legal rights to breaks at work.
“I will say it again, there is no Government plan to reduce workers’ rights.”