British and Scottish Gas workers are being balloted for strike action over claims of macho management and bullying by their employer.
The GMB union has sent the ballot papers out to 8,000 of its members employed mainly as gas service engineers, central heating boiler engineers and distribution depot workers. The process is due to close on 23 March.
Paul Kenny, the GMB’s general secretary, said: “British Gas has turned from being a reasonable employer, where people had job satisfaction, into one with a culture of bullying, customer exploitation and profits at all costs. This change of culture is very much the result of recent management changes.”
He added that the union had also written to Phil Bentley, British Gas’ managing director, asking him to clarify a leaked internal email, which referred to cuts of 25% in frontline jobs – the equivalent of 5,000 positions. This was because “British Gas has consistently failed to deal with this matter” to date, Kenny said.
While a statement from the company failed to address the accusations of bullying, it did tackle the job cuts situation.
“We are extremely disappointed that yet again the GMB is repeating accusations about job cuts at British Gas, which are simply untrue,” the statement said. “They continue to quote from an email from June last year relating to reductions in headquarter costs, which were announced last August. Claims of 5,000 job cuts are frankly ridiculous.”
The GMB’s latest move follows a consultative ballot undertaken last month, in which 95% of members agreed that an official vote on industrial action was required. This, in turn, was the result of the union sending out of a questionnaire on working conditions, to which there was an unprecedented response.
Many of the complaints centred around skilled engineers feeling overworked and being unhappy about being made to up-sell to customers when they were working in their homes.
Other grievances related to being micromanaged and subjected to a draconian disciplinary regime for the slightest infraction. This included engineers being put on disciplinary review for the following 12 months if they missed performance targets for the first time.