BRITISH Gas employees in the North-East have joined colleagues across the country in a stand against "fire and re-hire" threats and contract changes.

The union GMB has accused British Gas of a “fire and re-hire” policy which would lead to a pay cut and longer working week for its members.

GMB members at British Gas put down tools yesterday, January 20, and will again on January 22, 25, 29, 30, 31 and February 1 as cities across the UK lit up with ‘Stop the British Gas Fire’ messages of support.

Northern lead for British Gas within the trade union Donna Walker said changes to contracts are "not acceptable" and described the mood of workers as "low".

She said: "The company want them to give up all of their rights for nothing in return. They will be overworked and underpaid despite the dangerous job they do. It's important they are not fatigued for the safety of employees and customers."

Messages of support for the striking workers were projected on iconic buildings across London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Ms Walker added: "These are people who have worked there for ten years, they have given their life to British Gas.

"If the threat of fire and re-hire is allowed to go ahead, what happens after that? It cannot be allowed to happen. How will they be protected in the future?"

Ms Walker is calling on bosses to "sit around the table" and negotiate with employees.

She added: "It should not be about profit and gain, it needs to be about stability and safety of staff.

GMB said the strikes "provoked by the company" have caused widespread disruption with 100,000 estimated homes waiting for service as of yesterday.

There are exceptions to the industrial action for dealing with emergencies and problems for households with vulnerable people.

But Centrica, British Gas' parent company, says 83 per cent of employees have already accepted the new terms and deals have been met with other unions.

The firm, which says it "cannot continue" operating the ay it is after years of customer losses, insists its working week will still be lower than competitors and pay will still be higher.

British Gas employees in the North-East do not have traditional workplaces, instead picking up tools for the day at a "bio box".

Teams picketed pick-up points during previous action but have taken campaigning online this time around.

It follows five days of action earlier this month where 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 took part, according to the union.

Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said: “A profitable British Gas is provoking disruption leading to a backlog of more than 100,000 customers waiting for service so far.

“The backlog will grow due to the impact of the next seven days of stoppages. The company doesn’t seem to care about services to customers.

“Loyal, hardworking British Gas engineers are being fired and re-hired and have been left with no choice but to take action again.

“British Gas should start focussing on the workforce and customers who make it profitable – without either the company is nothing."

A Centrica spokesperson said: "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.

"We’re operating in an incredibly competitive market and British Gas has lost too many jobs and too many customers over recent years. We can’t continue like this. We need to take action to modernise and refocus the company in line with what our customers need now, not what they needed 20 years ago.

"Our pay for engineers will remain the highest in the sector, but we need to get productivity back to where it used to be and for some, we need to increase the working week from 37 to 40 hours. We’re not changing base pay or pensions and we will reward increased productivity through additional bonuses.

"83 per cent of our employees have already accepted the new terms - including the majority of our engineers. Our changes are ultimately to protect and create jobs for the future.’’