A BRITISH Gas engineer from St Helens has spoken out against his employers, as the bitter row over proposed new contracts rumbles on.

Workers will stage a second series of five one-day strikes starting from January 20, after five days of strike action failed to resolve the dispute.

Thousands of employees walked out last Thursday in response to parent company Centrica trying to push through pay cuts by threatening to fire workers.

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Almost 90 per cent of GMB members voted for industrial action in a ballot of 9,000 members last month, the trade union said, after Centrica refused to take its ‘fire and rehire’ pay cuts off the table.

Kevin Bailey, from Haydock, is a British gas engineer covering St Helens, Warrington and Lowton, and shop steward.

He believes the changes proposed by Centrica will be “detrimental” to staff and customers.

“They are demanding an extra eight hours a week off each employee, with no pay,” Mr Bailey said.

“Job times have been cut, meaning if I take longer, I will need to take extra work, for free, to make up the short fall in time.

“This in itself will be detrimental, not only to the engineers, but also to the customers.”

Mr Bailey said he is worried about facing repercussions for speaking out publicly, but feels that the public should know what is happening.

And he also wants people to know they are also striking for British Gas customers, who they have continued to serve throughout the pandemic.

Mr Bailey said: “Some time ago, I attended the home of a 90-odd year-old lady in Sutton who had had a fall and had a rather nasty gash on her leg.

“I gave her first aid and sat with her until help could arrive. I’ve had chats with old war heroes that haven’t seen another human being in six weeks.

“Things like this will be a thing of the past as I’ll be punished for taking longer than they think I should take.

“Customers are waiting for an unprecedented amount of time recently.

“Not down to us, the engineers, but because of a systemic failure of a senior leadership team to not recruit and to simply cut and cut again.

“We have been on strike for the last five days, not for more money, not for better terms – but to keep the terms we have.”

Mr Bailey said a mandate of 89 per cent in favour of strike action is a “pretty big indictment” of the strength of feeling against the proposed changes to terms and condition.

But Centrica said only 52 per cent of GMB members actually took part in the ballot and voted, which they argue is a “very weak mandate”.

The firm added that the changes it is making will ultimately protect and grow jobs in the long-term.

Centrica said it had done everything it could to avoid industrial action.

A Centrica spokesman said it reached an agreement with Unison and Unite over the proposals, following 300 hours of negotiation.

They claim the GMB initially indicated they would neutrally put the offer to their members, before doing a U-turn at the last minute, recommending that members reject the proposals.

“We’ve done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action,” a Centrica spokesman said.

“Whilst we’ve made great progress with our other unions, sadly the GMB leadership seems intent on causing disruption to customers during the coldest time of the year, amid a global health crisis and in the middle of a national lockdown.

“Over 83 per cent of our workforce have already accepted our new terms, in which base pay and pensions are protected, including a significant majority of GMB members.

“This shows most of our people understand that our business needs to change because customer needs are changing.

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“GMB’s mandate for strike action is weak; they are fighting against modernisation and changes which will help to protect well paid jobs in the long term and are doing so at a time that our country needs everyone to pull together.”

Centrica said it has contingency plans in place to allow us to continue to serve its customers, as it faces five more days of planned strike action from Wednesday, January 20.

A spokesman said it will be prioritising those who are vulnerable and emergencies, such as boiler breakdowns.