British Gas owner “uses Covid-19 as a smoke screen to modify staff contracts” | Business

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Unions have accused the owner of British Gas of using the Covid-19 pandemic as a “smoke screen” to force its 20,000 workers to take on worse work contracts – or to lose their jobs.Centrica is in talks to “simplify” the wide range of employment contracts used among its 20,000 employees, after announcing the loss of 5,000 jobs last month.

But talks between Centrica management and union representatives have reached a breaking point over so-called “layoff and rehiring” plans, which the unions say could erode the employment conditions of thousands of workers.

This week, British Gas was forced to assure employees that the company would only seek to terminate existing contracts and offer new terms, called section 188 notices, as a “last resort” if the talks “Difficult” with the unions collapsed.

Unions have accused the company of having raised the possibility of an article 188 notice in the aftermath of the coronavirus epidemic to “blackmail” staff by agreeing to lower wages and tighten labor conditions. contract, following record losses in the business before the pandemic.

Unite said the “smokescreen” was part of a “worrying trend” among some of Britain’s largest employers and called on management at Centrica to undertake an “urgent review” of their plans.

Referring to British Airways’ proposals to change the terms and conditions of thousands of employees under section 188 notice, Mark Pettifer, the Unite regional officer, said: “Centrica adopts the same tactics as British Airways and uses Covid-19 as a smoke screen to cut the jobs of loyal and dedicated staff who worked during the lockout to provide power to the nation.

“Unite urges Centrica management to urgently rethink and engage constructively with unions to tackle the specific issues facing Centrica and, more generally, the British energy sector after Covid-19,” said -he declares.

Centrica collapsed from the FTSE 100 earlier this year after more than five years of decline, due to increasing competition in the energy market from a series of low-cost energy supply start-ups.

The owner of the UK’s largest energy supplier has lost around 1 million customers in the past two years and declared a loss of £ 1 billion in 2019 before cutting his dividend for shareholders and warning investors that there would be a sharp drop in income in 2020.

The company’s share price fell to one-tenth of its value in 2013, and its market value hit record levels in April, just weeks after the company replaced its president and ousted its outgoing CEO. with immediate effect.

Matthew Bateman, the general manager of British Gas, told employees via a video meeting this week that the company may have to warn all employees that their current conditions will be deleted and that new conditions will be proposed.

Bateman added that the section 188 notice was “a normal legal step” which was “really, firmly our position of support” to ensure that talks with union representatives “do not take too long”.

“We know this is an emotional subject and we also know that it will cause even more anxiety for our teams,” he said.

A Centrica spokesperson said, “We have been open to the changes we need to make to win back customers, grow our business and protect jobs for the long term. The basic wages and pensions of our employees will be protected, but the simplification and modernization of their working conditions are essential if we are to become more flexible and more competitive.

“We understand the impact this will have on our colleagues and it is not an option we want to use, but we must make these changes and we must conclude these talks before the winter period,” they added.

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