A Lewisham councillor and the local trades union council joined the picket line on Friday (January 29) to protest new controversial contracts for British gas engineers.  

British Gas owner Centrica announced it would be cutting 5,000 jobs in June to “arrest the decline” of the company after losing out to rivals.  

In July the firm told workers they would have to agree to new working conditions, which include no extra overtime pay, or risk losing their jobs.  

British Gas insists the new contracts are aimed at saving jobs. 

The four-day strike which started on Friday follows another earlier in the month.  

Train union GMB also announced a further four dates on February 1 – February 5, 6, 7 and 8. 

Nearly 90 per cent of GMB members voted for industrial action in a ballot of 9,000 members.  

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On Friday, Bellingham Cllr Alan Hall and Lewisham Trades Union Council (TUC) president, Cheryl McLeod, attended a demonstration outside the gas workers’ Livesey Hall in Bell Green in Lower Sydenham.  

Cllr Hall has written to Centrica board members demanding that they use their positions to “think again” and “rein in” Chris O’Shea, the company’s CEO. 

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He wrote: “I am writing to you today because I’m incredibly concerned about what I’m seeing in the newspapers and social media about how British Gas is treating its workforce. 

“British Gas is an institution. It’s a respected company and household name with millions of customers.  

“It is incredibly disappointing to see that you intend to fire and rehire your employees on worse terms and conditions, and this in the middle of a global pandemic. 

“As board members you are well rewarded, yet you are asking loyal and hardworking British Gas employees to add another 5.5 to eight hours of unpaid work and travel to their working weeks.  

“Many of your employees have children and families and caring responsibilities. 

“For a company that used to be seen as a great place to work, it’s understandable to see the anger from staff who want to protect their precious family time.  

“For the sake of your own reputation, it’s time you reined in your out-of-control CEO Chris O’Shea.” 

A British Gas spokesperson said: “Our business needs to change to survive and protect 20,000 jobs. 

“We know change is difficult but we have offered a fair deal that has been negotiated over 300 hours with unions – where base pay and pensions are protected. 

“Using dismissal and re-engagement has always been a final resort option. 

“That’s why we have worked so hard to ensure that it has now been removed for a significant majority of our employees – 83 per cent have already agreed to the new terms.” 

However, GMB national secretary Justin Bowden said the 83 per cent figure is not relevant.  

He said: “These four days of strike will add to more than 170,000 homes in repair backlog and 200,000 service visits axed. 

“British Gas’s claim that it is catching up after 24 hours is bogus. 

“Staff in the field engineers bargaining group will not accept the new contract.  

“12 days of solid strike action shows this. British Gas is kidding itself using an 83 per cent that is mostly staff in other bargaining groups.  

“The only votes that count are the field staff so the 83 per cent figure is not relevant. 

“GMB started with town gas then moved to natural gas and on to digital technology. Change won’t stop there. 

“Members are not afraid to embrace a new future with investment in the latest in diagnostic technologies to pave the way for the ‘engineers of the future’ programme. 

“But members will not be bullied in the new contract. 

“For the CEC in deciding the next steps it is looking likely that a protracted dispute looms.”