Torbay Council leaders support British Gas workers in pay dispute

Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council

Steve Darling, leader of Torbay Council - Credit: Submitted

Torbay Council leaders have criticised power firm Centrica over a pay dispute which has led to a strike by heating engineers.

Council leader Steve Darling is urging the owner of British Gas to withdraw notices of redundancy and continue talks with the GMB union.

Torbay Council Independent deputy leader Darren Cowell

Torbay Council Independent deputy leader Darren Cowell - Credit: Submitted

British Gas engineers began a five-day strike on Thursday, January 7, over the dispute after they rejected proposals to cut pay and conditions which the union said amounted to 'little more than a zero hours contract attached to a bonus scheme'.

Centrica said it had done everything it could to avoid a strike and said it would prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies.

A letter to Centrica from the council’s Liberal Democrat leader and Independent deputy leader Darren Cowell points out the local authority is a major customer of the firm.

They say they have been contacted by Torbay residents raising concerns over the company’s negotiating tactics with the union.

The letter to Centrica chief executive Chris O’Shea says: “Given the focus we have as an authority on procuring services from good employers who recognise trade unions and offer good rates of pay, Centrica has – to date – always felt like a good fit for us.

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“We are concerned to hear that this position appears to have shifted and as a customer committed to social value and upholding workers’ rights feel that we must highlight our concerns to you in the strongest terms possible.

“We are shocked at representations made to us that you are threatening to fire and rehire thousands of workers, including our residents, if they do not accept your demands and agree to the changes proposed.

“We are also extremely disappointed to hear that you have refused to continue negotiations to come to a deal that will be made with the workforce instead of to them.

"We expect you to continue to work with recognised unions and not to remove or undermine existing collective bargaining arrangements.

“We are writing to ask that you change course, withdraw the notices of redundancy and re-engage with GMB with meaningful negotiations on the basis of a shared recovery for the company.”

The letter points out Torbay Council has spent almost £250,000 with Centrica over the three years to 2019.

A Centrica spokesperson said: “We’ve done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action.

“While we’ve made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest weekend of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown.

“We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure we will still be there for customers who really need us.”

The GMB union said last month’s vote in favour of strike action by almost 90 per cent of 9,000 members was in response to an attempt to cut salaries by up to 10 per cent.