British Gas engineers across south west London are on their twenty-second day of strike action, picketing on Clapham Common against controversial plans to 'fire and rehire' them.

The group started protesting against the energy firm at the beginning of January, due to new working conditions which could affect 7,000 of its staff across the UK.

British Gas employee Michael Green* has been involved in the Clapham strike action, with him and around ten colleagues usually staking out on the south side of the Common.

Clapham Common GMB strike

Clapham Common GMB strike

The strike follows a 9-1 vote in favour of industrial action by members of the GMB, which accused Centrica, British Gas’ parent company, of planning to cut pay, terms and conditions under moves to “fire and rehire” employees.

Mr Green said they had effectively been told when entering negotiations that if they failed to sign an agreement by April 1, then they would be sacked.

The 38-year-old believed it was a “job for life”, having worked in the service and repair team for the last 15 years.

“I always took personal pride in what we did, but I’m disappointed and disheartened with the way the business has operated. We’ve had one member outside London who’s taken his life because of this.”

Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova joined the strike action, which has been widely condemned by politicians including Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Clapham Common GMB strike

Clapham Common GMB strike

Mr Green* has a two-year-old child and another baby on the way. He said there would be no work-life balance under the new contract.

"Our shift hours would start from 7 o’clock in the morning and run until 9 o’clock at night. Usually, I kiss my son first thing in the morning and tuck him into bed at night. I wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

“Fundamentally, it’s an extra three hours a week but on top of that we might have to travel between each job, so theoretically it could add an extra eight hours.”

“There is no give or take, or work-life balance. It’s just about the needs of the business.”

The strike involves around 4,500 service and repair gas engineers, 600 central heating installers, 540 electrical engineers, 170 specialist business gas engineers and 1,700 smart metering engineers, said the union.

The only exceptions to the industrial action will be dealing with emergencies and problems for households with vulnerable people, it added.

GMB national official Justin Bowden said the actions of British Gas had “tarnished” its reputation.

"GMB members from Land's End to John O'Groats have stayed home, stayed safe and supported the first national gas strike in a decade.

"The months and months of fire and rehire pay cut threats from British Gas CEO Chris O'Shea have provoked thousands and thousands of GMB engineers and call centre staff to strike, the only option left to them by a business that made £901m operating profit yet still plans to sack them because they won't accept the scale of cuts it demands," he added.

“The use of fire and re-hire threats has been condemned across the political spectrum and caused huge anger among this dedicated workforce.”

Clapham Common GMB strike

Clapham Common GMB strike

Mr Green* added:

"This will potentially affect everyone within the UK because if British Gas can fire and rehire as a profitable business it will open the floodgates for other companies, regardless of their financial position."

"There will be unrest within the workforce if this is implemented, as the workers who do accept will be reluctant and that’s not very productive.

British Gas

British Gas

A Centrica spokesman said: “We’ve done everything we can with the GMB to avoid industrial action.

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

“We have strong contingency plans in place to ensure we will still be there for customers who really need us, and we’ll prioritise vulnerable households and emergencies.”

*Some names have been changed for the purposes of anonymity.