Centrica, the owner of ‘big six’ energy supplier British Gas, will ask thousands of workers to either accept new working terms or risk losing their jobs. New terms will not include additional overtime pay.
The company has said that if staff are not willing to sign the contract, a new wave of redundancies will likely occur, although the firm insists that this is only a “last resort” option.
5,000 job cuts have already been outlined by Centrica, on the back of plummeting customer accounts. The company previously went on to say that it was “open about the changes” required to win back lost customers. However, the company stresses that these new proposals are all subject to a consultation period with unions.
"Our employees' base pay and pensions will be protected, but simplifying and modernising their terms is essential if we're to become more flexible and price competitive. We have over 80 different employee contracts with 7,000 variations of terms, many of which are outdated and stop us delivering for customers," said Centrica.
Nevertheless, concerns have been voiced by unions and workers, who criticised the timing amid the coronavirus lockdown.
One anonymous British Gas engineer, who has worked for the provider for more than 15 years, said that: "They are using this as an excuse because they know we can't even have discussions and meetings. This really is a divide-and-conquer moment."
The company emphasises that to protect jobs in the long term, it must become more competitive. The ‘big six’ supplier competes with a long list of UK gas and electricity suppliers.
There has been speculation that Centrica proposes to fix overtime pay at the same rate as regular hours. Previously, overtime pay could attract double the hourly rate, depending on a worker's contract. Additionally, those engineers who may have previously been asked to work shifts between 08:00 and 20:00 in the busier winter period could be allocated hours any time between 06:00 and 23:00. Unions have described these new contracts as “unfavourable,” although both companies insist the deal offered is fair. Any changes will not affect employees’ base pay or pensions, according to Centrica.
The firm also said that a Section 188 notice, which employers are required to give to staff and unions if they are considering large-scale redundancies, was a last resort if employees did not agree to the new terms. "We've been open about the changes we need to make to win back customers, grow our company and protect jobs in the long run," the company said in a statement.
Most industries, including the energy sector, will be seeing sweeping changes in the months and years ahead. One report noted that millions of jobs could be saved through a sustainable recovery. The UK Government has a number of big decisions to make, the challenges ahead will require meticulous planning and deliberation.