British Gas | Firm made £80m & took furlough cash - then changed staff working conditions

Firm made £80m & took furlough cash - then changed staff working conditions

Last week, British Gas hit headlines after it was reported that hundreds of engineers had lost their jobs as part of a “fire and rehire” scheme.

According to the Sun, the energy and home services provider fired circa 500 workers who install and repair boilers and heating systems. This was on April 1, 2021.

This news comes despite British Gas reporting profits of £80million in its most recent update.

In addition to this, the Guardian reported over the weekend that the firm’s parent company, Centrica, received £27million under the UK Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).

Looking for more

The CJRS is a scheme more commonly referred to as furlough and was introduced as a lifeline to employers and employees when the pandemic hit last year.

Data from Statista found that as of March 15, 2021, approximately 11.4million jobs, from 1.3million different employers were furloughed in the UK as part of this scheme.

‘New contracts’

Those staff who had refused to sign up to new contracts – which reportedly forced them to have weekend and bank holiday rates cut and work longer hours – were given two weeks to either change their minds or face the sack, as the Telegraph reported.

While the majority of workers and trade unions accepted these new conditions, the Sun reported that the union GMB led more than 40 days of strikes which objected to these new terms.

The organisation’s parent firm, Centrica, announced job cut plans and plans to change contracts last year.

Centrica Spokesperson weighed in last week

In addition to this, British Gas’ parent company stated that the contract changes were necessary to protect roles amid a £362million loss last year.

A Spokesman for Centrica told the Sun: “We are changing the way we work to give our customers the service they want and protect the future of our company and 20,000 UK jobs.

"The changes we need to make are reasonable and 98% of the entire company has accepted new contracts. We have not cut base pay or changed our generous final salary pensions.

"Our gas service engineers remain some of the best paid in the sector, earning £40,000 a year minimum.

"While change is difficult, reversing our decline which has seen us lose over three million customers, cut over 15,000 jobs and seen profits halved over the last 10 years is necessary.

"The changes will also unlock our ability to grow jobs and hire 1000 green apprentices over the next two years,’ the spokesperson added.

Criticism from unions & MPs on social media

This news attracted a wealth of criticism from trade unions including GMB, who took to Twitter claiming that the firm should be “ashamed of themselves”.

In fact, GMB National Secretary Justin Bowden, told the Morning Star: "That British Gas doesn't give a toss for either its customers or staff is evidenced by the mass sacking of the engineers that it badly needs to service these customers."

Aside from attracting the attention of trade unions, the Leader of the Labour Party, Kier Starmer, also took to Twitter, weighing in on the news.

He wrote that the “whole labour movement stands in solidarity with British Gas workers”.

‘Fire and rehire’

Recent research has also looked into ‘fire and rehire’ tactics that some firms have reportedly adopted during this time.

According to the Guardian, almost seven in ten (70%) employers accused of rolling out ‘fire and rehire’ tactics on wages and working conditions are making a profit.

It also found that half have claimed support from the UK Government throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The TUC’s General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, claimed that ‘fire and rehire’ tactics had affected almost one in ten workers amid the coronavirus crisis.

She said: “This research shows how some firms are cynically exploiting the crisis to drive down pay and conditions.”

Have you enjoyed this piece?

Subscribe now to myGrapevine+ and get access to exclusive new content, and the full content archive.

Be the first to comment.

You are currently previewing this article.

This is the last preview available to you for the next 30 days.

To access more news, features, columns and opinions every day, create a free myGrapevine account.