GAS WORKERS in Scotland are to begin five days of strikes from Thursday morning as part of the "biggest dispute seen in the sector for 40 years".

Over 1,000 Scottish Gas workers in Scotland will are to take the action in a dispute over a "fire and rehire" plan.

Across the UK the strike will involve 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 GMB unions said that thousands of gas and electrical engineers were told in July that if they did not agree new terms and conditions, which their union the GMB characterised as containing “draconian” cuts to their terms and conditions, they would be “fired then rehired.”

The announcement follows a 9-1 vote in favour of industrial action by members of the GMB union, which has accused British Gas, which trades as Scottish Gas north of the border, and parent firm Centrica of planning to cut pay, terms and conditions.

The union says staff are upset at a plan to fire and then rehire staff involved in Scottish/British Gas operations laid-out by Centrica Plc Group’s chief executive Officer Chris O’Shea, over 10,000 GMB members across the UK four nations will take part in the action.

GMB says Mr O’Shea has refused to accept efforts by GMB to negotiate a way forward for the business.

"Instead, after months of talks, workers have been told to accept the slashing of wages and conditions, or face being sacked," the union said.

HeraldScotland:

GMB Scotland senior organiser for commercial services Hazel Nolan, criticised Centrica’s executives for their role in creating their own company crisis and exploiting workers during the COVID-19 pandemic: “Today is CEO pay day, Chris O’Shea will take home a pre-bonus wage of £775,000, and Centrica have recorded a £901m operating profit for 2019.

“In the grip of a global pandemic, Chris O’Shea’s anti-worker, ‘fire and rehire’ agenda would set a dangerous precedent for major UK employers, opening the floodgates for widespread attacks on workers’ jobs, pay and conditions. This is not how a country builds back better.

“GMB members are being told they’ll be sacked and then forced to accept new terms and conditions - across the board cuts in wages pensions and leave. Take it or leave it. Centrica are turning a once great British industrial institution into a cowboy contractor.

“We have no choice but to fight-back.”

A Centrica spokesman said: “The GMB leadership is stuck in the past, fighting against modernisation and failing to understand that customer demands are changing; customers want better appointments and we need more flexibility to deliver for them.

“If we can’t change the way we work then we can’t do this, and our customers will turn to our competitors.

“Our new terms are fair and the majority of our workforce – including thousands of GMB members – accept that we need to change.

“We now expect to see well over 75% of our colleagues to have accepted by the end of the year."

Three weeks ago, a cross-party group of MPs urged Centrica’s bosses to withdraw any threat of firing and then rehiring the British Gas engineering workforce.

The prime minister Boris Johnson was also asked for his support for workers in the House of Commons.

The only exceptions to the industrial action will be dealing with emergencies and problems for households with vulnerable people as temperature's plummet and the nation enter a third national lockdown, according to the union.

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

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

“There’s still time for British Gas to see sense, remove the fire and rehire threats, and negotiate a fair settlement to avoid a walkout.”

Mr Bowden said workers had been “provoked” into taking industrial action.

In June Centrica, which owns British Gas and Scottish Gas, has said it was to cut 5,000 jobs as the company tries to set a new course amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Centrica said it would strip out three layers of management to slimline the business and cut down on bureaucracy.

Around half of the 5,000 lost jobs were to lost among the company's leadership, management and corporate staff.