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Hundreds of British Gas engineers to be sacked in 'fire and rehire' dispute

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An image of British Gas vans tweeted by the GMB union 
An image of British Gas vans tweeted by the GMB union

Hundreds of British Gas engineers were sacked on Wednesday following a bitter row over pay and conditions that has cast a shadow over chief executive Chris O'Shea's first year in office.

Workers faced a noon deadline to agree to new terms involving longer hours and weekend work or be dismissed.

Despite some last-minute acceptances, almost 500 engineers are understood to have lost their jobs at Britain's largest energy supplier.

Photos posted by GMB Union on Twitter showed vans being collected from engineers across the country.

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The union said British Gas "should be ashamed" of the way it had treated workers.

Parent company Centrica, which employs 20,000 people in the UK, announced the plans last summer to cut about 1,000 jobs and change the terms of existing contracts - using a controversial "fire and rehire" tactic that infuriated unions.

It claimed the changes were needed to protect jobs as it tried to shore up its position as it battles to compete with rivals.

British Gas has been losing customers to its competitors while Centrica sank to a £362m loss last year, although British Gas itself remains profitable.

Markets Hub - Centrica
Markets Hub - Centrica

The GMB argued that workers had been "let down by successive regimes of mismanagement".

It said: "Our members have done everything they’ve been asked, always on the promise that this will lead to prosperity - but it hasn’t."

Under the new terms, engineers' working hours will increase from 37 to 40 hours a week and will not get higher weekend rates.

Amid escalating tensions, Mr O'Shea has spoken of how his wife and son were sent a package of excrement with a note referring to the dispute.

“I know this puts a lot of pressure on people," he told MPs in February. "Only yesterday, my wife and teenage son had a package of excrement delivered to them with a note about ‘fire and rehire’. This is something that affects absolutely everybody; I’m not immune to this.”

Centrica said the new contracts were highly competitive, with reasonable changes that had been accepted by 98pc of the company.

It added: "We have not cut base pay or changed our generous final salary pensions. Our gas service engineers remain some of the best paid in the sector, earning £40,000 a year minimum.

"While change is difficult, reversing our decline which has seen us lose over three million customers, cut over 15,000 jobs and seen profits halved over the last 10 years is necessary. The changes will also unlock our ability to grow jobs and hire 1,000 green apprentices over the next two years.’’

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