British Gas workers are to vote on strike action (Image: PA)

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Thousands of British Gas workers are to vote on strikes in a dispute over new contracts.

The GMB union has warned that industrial action could be held over Christmas if there is a yes vote – although it has pledged to exempt the elderly and vulnerable from the impact of any action.

The union says in July British Gas owners Centrica unveiled plans to fire and rehire the entire 20,000 workforce, if they didn’t accept changes to their pay and conditions.

An indicative ballot in August showed that 95% of members would be in favour of industrial action if there was a vote.

Industrial action could be held over Christmas
(Image: Daily Post Wales)

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Justin Bowden, GMB national secretary, said: "People don’t like threats and bullying and GMB members are no different.

“We sought to get the threat off the table. The best that they were prepared to do was postpone the ultimatum until January. This is an insulting response to these essential workers – keeping homes across the nation heated in the depths of winter.”

An earlier statement by British Gas owners Centrica, said: “We know that change can be very difficult and we are doing all we can to support our people but we urgently need to act now to win back customers, grow our company and protect more jobs in the long run.

“We are committed to reaching a negotiated settlement this year, which sets us up for future success, and we hope our unions who have also agreed that change is needed to share that desire as we continue our ongoing negotiations.”

Centrica said base pay and pensions will be protected but working practices and terms needed to be simplified and modernised if the firm is to become more flexible in delivery for its customers.

Explaining that there were currently over 80 different employee contracts and 7,000 variations of terms, as well as agreements that date back 35 years.

Bowden added: “All signs are that a national strike is the gas industry is weeks away if British Gas don’t stop their playground bullying tactics which threaten to disrupt energy supplies and services to customers over Christmas and New Year.”