MPs to quiz both sides in British Gas engineers’ dispute

Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent

Both sides in the British Gas engineers’ dispute have been called to give evidence to MPs as part of a hearing on the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the labour market.

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee will question executives from British Gas owner Centrica and the GMB union as well as representatives from other organisations including the TUC and Resolution Foundation.

GMB members at British Gas have taken several days of strike action in protest at planned changes to their pay and conditions, and will launch a fresh wave of industrial action later this week.

The committee’s session, on February 2, is likely to examine issues such as unemployment, skills, so-called ‘fire and rehire’ and mass redundancies, workers’ rights and employment conditions, the gig-economy and insecure work.

Committee chairman Darren Jones, Labour MP for Bristol North West, said: “Businesses and workers have had a very tough time over the last year. Over 800,000 people have lost their jobs since the pandemic took hold and there are very real fears that many more people will face the same bleak fate over the coming months.

“There is no doubt that many businesses have faced difficult trading conditions but concerns have been raised that some employers are resorting to tactics such as ‘fire and rehire’ and seeking to downgrade pay and workers’ terms during the pandemic.

“It’s important we begin to understand the long-term impact for workers from the Covid pandemic, examining how we can improve future employment legislation to ensure the protection of workers, including those working the gig economy, and also ensure we modernise the labour market to foster future jobs growth.”

Witnesses invited to the committee hearing include Centric chief executive Chris O’Shea and GMB national officer Justin Bowden.

Mr Bowden said: “British Gas’ ‘fire and rehire’ cuts have provoked strikes, leading to a backlog of more than 150,000 homes waiting for service and 200,000 boiler service visits axed so far.

“There are serious questions as to why a profitable British Gas is treating customers and staff so badly.

“The numbers awaiting service are growing as more strikes are planned and the only way to end the dispute is to take fire and rehire off the table.

“We look forward to the select committee seeing what fire and rehire means in practice. In our view it has no place in a modern industrial framework and should be outlawed.”

A Centrica spokesman said: “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.

“Eighty-three percent of our employees have already agreed to the new terms.”

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