THIS WEEK, the boss of British Gas, Chris O’Shea, sent letters to 7,500 of its service engineers informing them that on Wednesday 14 April they face mass sackings unless they sign up to new wage-cutting contracts.
These engineers are responsible for carrying out repairs for 3.6 million customers throughout the UK and have continued working throughout the pandemic to ensure heating and power for the country.
According to the GMB union, this new contract, which involves forcing them to work an extra three hours unpaid a week, represents a 15% wage cut for these workers.
Next Wednesday’s deadline is the culmination of a determined campaign by British Gas owner Centrica to force through fire and rehire for its entire 20,000-strong workforce.
In July last year, the company announced that engineers who refuse to ‘voluntarily accept’ new contracts would be sacked. In August, GMB members at British Gas voted 95% for industrial action to defeat fire and hire threats.
In October, the GMB announced that British Gas owner Centrica was ‘in retreat’ after it announced its plans had been postponed until January 2021. Centrica didn’t retreat very far and now it is determined to put its plan into action.
British Gas workers have held 42 days of strikes so far and the 43rd day has been announced for April 14 to coincide with the final date for signing the new contract or be sacked.
What is clear is that the limited strike action taken by the GMB has not forced the company to climb down and it has used the delays in implementation as time to browbeat workers into signing up to these wage-cutting contracts.
This week, finance brokers were reporting that a return to paying out dividends to its shareholders by Centrica is now on the cards as long as they sort out ‘uncertainties’ over industrial action, while the company has reported profits of £901 million in 2019.
In other words, driving through fire and hire, cutting wages, increasing the working week and putting an end to strikes is central to the company driving up its profits and paying billions out to its shareholders.
As one engineer, speaking to the Guardian newspaper, said, he and his colleagues had half thought the company might ‘give us a pat on the back’ for working through the pandemic not ‘plotting behind the scenes’ to ‘rip up our contracts.’
This is the reality not just for British Gas workers but for the entire working class today as capitalism drives to restore its profits in the only way it can – by driving down wages while driving up the exploitation of the only class that produces real value.
Fire and hire has spread rapidly throughout the industries and companies as the fight to restore profits for the bosses and shareholders intensifies. It has spread from the airports and aviation sector through to the energy industries and way beyond.
The latest example this week, was in the coffee giant JDE (Jacob Douwe Egberts) which issued notices of dismissal and re-engagement to 291 employees at its site in Banbury, Oxfordshire.
The working class will never get a ‘pat on the back’ from the bosses, only a kick in the teeth as fire and hire becomes the ‘new normal’ for this bankrupt British capitalist system.
In January, the TUC revealed that one-in-ten workers have been told to re-apply for their jobs on worse terms. The response of TUC general secretary Francis O’Grady was to appeal to Tory prime minister Boris Johnson’s ‘better nature’ and for the government to outlaw them.
Workers will reject spineless appeals to the Tories and demand that the powerful trade unions unite the individual strikes in a national strike and insist the TUC call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will expropriate the bosses and bankers under a planned socialist economy.
This is the only way to abolish ‘fire and rehire’.