Week-long meter workers strike

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‘PIG-headed’ EDF Energy bosses have sparked a week-long meter workers’ strike.

A week-long strike by EDF Energy workers carrying out Smart meter installations will take place next week, after ACAS talks failed. Unite, suspended a week’s strike in November for talks with the management.

However, the union said that the talks had broken down and now about 70 staff at EDF headquarters at Bexleyheath, Kent and Canning Town, east London are due to strike from 00.01 on Monday 11 January until 23.59 on Friday 15 January.

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: ‘Unite went into the ACAS talks before Christmas in good faith, but they have been sabotaged by a pig-headed management. The main sticking point is the requirement to work regular evenings and weekends as part of the installation of the Smart meter programme.

‘We had an agreement that current staff would not have their working hours altered – the employer has now reneged on this. EDF has also added new items – most controversially “telematics” which is a system for recording every movement of an employee’s working day. Our objection is that this will be used as a device for bullying.

‘At the same time as this new performance policy, the employer has said that it expects the union to co-operate with getting rid of staff via this new system. What led to the breakdown at ACAS was the management adding controversial new issues coupled with a threat to tear up agreements it did not like. This macho style of management and negotiation has led to next week’s strike.’

The proposals could affect the working conditions of nearly 500 staff across London, and southern and western England. Highly profitable EDF Energy also wants to close the Bangor Wharf depot in east London, as a prelude to closing all depots with the aim, says the union, of meter staff collecting their equipment from special lockers at supermarkets and petrol stations.

Unite members had voted by a margin of 85 per cent for strike action and 92 per cent were in favour of industrial action short of a strike. The EDF Energy sites that are affected by the company’s proposals are: Broadway, Bexley Heath, Kent; Georgiana Street, London; Three Bridges, Crawley; Speedwell, Bristol; Osprey Road, Exeter; Exeter Business Park, Exeter; Outland Road, Plymouth; Portland Road, Hove; East Sussex BN3 5S; and Canning Town.

• Households are paying £305 a year too much for energy as the gap widens between standard and the best deals. The majority of UK consumers remain with the Big Six energy companies on their standard tariffs, despite savings of £300 a year on offer from cheapest deals. About 70 per cent of UK consumers are signed up to the standard variable tariffs of the ‘Big Six’ energy suppliers. 

Most households in Britain are now paying £305 a year too much for their energy – up from £232 a year ago, new figures suggest. About 70 per cent of UK consumers are signed up to the standard variable tariffs. These tariffs had an annual average cost of £1,092 at the end of 2015, barely down from £1,126 a year before, according to analysis by First Utility, a small supplier.

By contrast the cheapest available tariff in the market, from another small supplier, GB Energy, is now £787 – a significant drop from the cheapest deal of £894 offered by another company a year ago, reflecting the lower wholesale prices. First Utility, which has about 900,000 customers, accused the Big Six of ‘exploiting their disengaged customers by keeping them on their most expensive tariffs – despite the huge savings available for those who switch’.

Darren Braham, the company’s co-founder, claimed the Big Six companies were more expensive in part because they were less efficient businesses, and said First Utility’s more efficient model cut its costs per customer by £50 or £60 a year. Despite the claim, First Utility’s own standard tariff comes in at £1,078, only £14 cheaper than the Big Six average, and some £254 more expensive than its own cheapest tariff, a one-year fixed price deal at £824.

Braham denied it was exploiting the 18 per cent of its customers who were on its higher priced standard tariff, insisting they were a ‘small minority’. ‘We don’t run our business in the same way the Big Six run their businesses,’ he said. ‘The real difference is every single month we are telling our customers there is a cheaper deal.’ ‘We want to incentivise them to go onto a fixed deal,’ he said.

Meanwhile, millions of parents cut back on heating to pay the mortgage. According to Shelter more than one in four parents across England are cutting back on their winter heating or clothing to meet the cost of their rent or mortgage. The housing charity found that 27% of parents have cut back on either using energy to heat their home or buying winter clothing to help meet the cost of keeping a roof over their head this winter.

From its findings, Shelter estimated that 2.7 million parents across England are cutting back on heating or clothes shopping to meet their housing costs. One in 10 of parents surveyed said they were worried about being able to afford to pay their rent or mortgage in 2016. One in 10 (10%) of parents surveyed said they were worried about being able to afford to pay their rent or mortgage in 2016 and 15% said they had already cut back on Christmas food shopping or dipped into savings meant for Christmas gifts in order to help pay for their housing costs this winter.

The research was based on a survey of more than 800 parents with children aged up to 18 years old across England. Shelter said that more than 100,000 people have sought advice on housing debt from the charity’s helpline, online or face-to-face services in the last year. The charity is urging anyone starting to have difficulties paying their rent or mortgage to get help as early as possible to avoid losing their home.