UK: Cadent engineers’ strike mandate suppressed as GMB union offers “gesture of goodwill” to management

Thousands of engineers at major UK gas distributor Cadent began an overtime ban May 10. This limited action took place despite almost 2,000 GMB union members voting overwhelmingly to strike in a ballot over pay in early April.

Based in Coventry, Cadent employs nearly 5,000 workers. In early April, engineers rejected a below-inflation pay increase of 2 percent for 2021 and 4 percent from July this year. When the GMB first announced on March 4 that it would authorize a strike ballot, RPI inflation was already at 7.8 percent. Announcing the ballot result on April 11, it had by then reached 8.2 percent and now stands at 9 percent. RPI is projected to rise to 11 percent by the end of the year.

Cadent engineers are in the obscene situation of working on gas supply infrastructure while fearing to turn on central heating or use cooking facilities in their own homes due to the recent 50 percent increase in gas and electricity prices. Another huge hike will be imposed on households in October.

On the eve of the action, the GMB confirmed it was only asking workers to participate in the limited overtime ban. Gary Carter, GMB National Officer, said the union did so in a spirit of goodwill to a company raking in mass profits as it insists workers suffer with a real-terms pay cut. “Despite members voting overwhelmingly for strike action, as a gesture of goodwill members will begin with a short-term overtime ban,” Carter said. He tacked on the idle threat, “But workers will not hesitate to escalate to strike action if the company doesn’t come back to the table with an improved pay offer.”

The GMB leadership can make this gesture to the bosses on behalf of a highly exploited workforce because their dues-based salaries more akin to those of Cadent management than the union’s members. Many Cadent engineers earn around £10 per hour, forced to take overtime to achieve anything approaching a living wage.

According to the GMB, Cadent made an operating profit of £901 million in 2021 and CEO Steve Fraser was paid salary of £1.4 million in 2020/21.

On behalf of the company, Chief People Officer Martin Rimmer said the firm was disappointed about the ban but confirmed that there would be no disruption to gas supplies during the dispute.

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