The owner of British gas, Centrica, will tell thousands of employees to accept new working conditions, including no overtime pay, or to risk their jobs.
The firm said that if employees do not sign the contract, there will be a new wave of layoffs, although it insists it is a “last resort”.
Centrica has already announced 5,000 job cuts while the number of customers plummets.
The firm said it had “been open to the changes” necessary to win back customers.
The proposals are all subject to a period of consultation with unions, said the company.
“The base salary 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 in terms of prices,” said Centrica.
“We have over 80 different employee contracts with 7,000 variations of terms, many of which are out of date and prevent us from delivering for customers.”
Unions and workers expressed concern about the move and criticized the schedule due to the lockout.
“They use this as an excuse because they know we can’t even have discussions and meetings,” said an engineer from British Gas, who has worked for the company for over 15 years and spoke to the BBC. on condition of anonymity.
“It’s really a time of division and conquest. ”
The company says it needs to become more competitive to protect long-term jobs.
Centrica proposes to fix overtime pay at the same rate as normal hours, according to a presentation seen by the BBC.
Previously, overtime could attract double the hourly rate, depending on the worker’s contract.
Engineers who may have previously been required to work shift work between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. during the busiest winter period could be allocated hours at any time between 6:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m.
Centrica is following British Airways by combining the proposed layoffs with new contracts which the unions describe as unfavorable. The two companies insist that the proposed agreement is fair.
“Huge slap on the face”
“What is really painful is that when this coronavirus started, we all rose to the challenge,” said the engineer.
He and other British Gas workers volunteered to deliver meals to vulnerable people for the Trussell Trust.
This gave him and his colleagues a sense of purpose, he said, while continuing to repair broken heating systems during the lockout.
“We were entering houses. We were proud because we were key workers, ”he said. “It’s a huge slap on the face. ”
Centrica said that a so-called section 188 notice, which employers are required to give workers’ representatives if they are considering mass layoffs, is only a last resort if workers are not agree with the new conditions.
“We have been open to the changes we need to make to win back customers, grow our business and protect long-term jobs,” the company said in a statement.
The GMB union said it had started discussions with the company on the planned changes, with Centrica setting a deadline for reaching an agreement with employees before winter.
Assistant general secretary Christina McAnea of the Unison union called the decision “shameful behavior”.
“Employees have worked hard over the past few months to ensure that customers are well served, despite the pandemic,” she said. “It’s not a way for business leaders to reimburse them. “