Socialist Party
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14 November 2018

British Gas workers need rank-and-file leadership

Looking out the window on a rainy day, not looking forward to the walk to work, I sit here on my bed and contemplate what next for my household.

I'm currently working a zero-hour contract, worried every week about if I'll have enough hours to cover household bills.

But now, on top of my concerns, I'm worried for my husband. A British Gas engineer who has given the company most of his adult working life, he is now living with fear for his future.

A few weeks ago, British Gas announced proposals to change the pension scheme. The leadership of the GMB union's service and utilities sector originally recommend that engineers vote yes.

A pension calculator showed my husband losing half his one-off payment and half his annual pension. These changes also include British Gas reducing its contributions by nearly half, and the employees paying 3% more. While the pension age increases.

Work longer, pay more, and get less!

My husband and other engineers lost all confidence not only in the company but also their union. So, the engineers started talking to each other using WhatsApp.

They were discussing all the issues they've faced with changes to their terms, conditions and wages over the last few years - which they've felt thrusted upon them, without any real leadership or challenge.

Within a week, nearly 3,500 engineers became involved in the discussions. Then several were called into a meeting with senior union officials.

There was talk of general union Unite trying to poach members - which is false. A Unite rep was only asked for advice. Yes, members had discussed leaving GMB, but that was an organic development.

They sat for over five hours with the officials, but left feeling reassured the GMB was listening and would fight for the workers.

Less than 24 hours after that meeting, the members who had started the WhatsApp groups for engineers to openly discuss the issues were threatened with their jobs if they didn't close them!

The groups were closed. Union leadership changes then followed, and there's a slight change in tune in the latest GMB statements.

However, now there is a possibility the engineers will vote no, reject the pension offer and push for industrial action.

The engineers who actually showed leadership to the workers while the union tops failed in their responsibilities will be targeted by the company. This must not be allowed.