British Gas workers could walk out on Hogmanay following a row over new contracts.
Trade union GMB has accused Centrica, the firm’s owner, of threatening to “fire and rehire” 20,000 employees if they do not accept changes to their pay and conditions. However, Centrica said such a move would be a last resort.
The firm also claimed base pay and pensions would be “protected” and that the proposed changes made up a total of 1.5% of the company’s wage bill.
On Tuesday, GMB announced a strike ballot will be held between December 1 and 17. Industrial action could then take place anytime from December 31.
The elderly and vulnerable in homes without heating will be exempt from the impact of the action.
Centrica previously revealed it had lost more than one million customers in two years.
The company said it had “no choice” but to make changes to its terms and conditions to modernise and win back customers from competitors.
Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: “Let’s be blunt; Centrica tried to enforce pay cuts of around 20% on the workforce.
“After over 300 hours of talks with the unions they dropped the imposed cuts plan to about 10%.
“CEO Chris O’Shea now rants about GMB and our reps because they are not prepared to try to sell his deal. That’s with good reason; it’s incomplete and unfair, especially for engineers.
“GMB members did not create the mess that Centrica is in, and it is wrong that all the risks associated with trying to turn the business’ fortunes around should be placed on the workforce.
“The message to Centrica from GMB has been clear all the way; they need to take the gun off the table, stop the threats and return to the negotiating table.
“GMB calls on Mr O’Shea and Centrica to stand up for their 20,000 loyal employees, their millions of customers and the 24 million gas users in this country by delivering a plan for growth that works for the company and is fair for the workforce.”
In response, a Centrica spokesperson said: “To win back customers from our competitors and reverse the decline of our business we must have flexibility to give customers what they want, at a price they want and when they need it.
“Our current terms and conditions are stopping us doing this and modernising the way we work is critical to our success.
“Since July we’ve spent over 300 hours in genuine and constructive negotiations with our unions, resulting in significant upward movement from our initial proposals.
“We are focused on turning our business around and protecting the well-paid and highly skilled jobs of our colleagues.”