On 29 November, the energy firm Npower announced plans to cut 4,500 jobs. We heard about the cuts on the news, on the way into work.
We were then summoned to a “briefing” by managers. The company says the unions were “consulted”.
That is untrue. Telling the senior stewards late the previous day and embargoing them from discussing with others is not any form of meaningful consultation.
The cuts are on a huge scale, 4,500 jobs out of a total workforce of 5,700. Effectively Npower is being closed down. There will also likely be cuts to outsourced workers, such as caterers and cleaners, agency workers and contractors, so the real figure will be higher than 4,500.
Of six major Npower offices, five will be closing: Rainton in County Durham, Leeds, Hull, Swindon and Worcester. Anyone who works in the offices and call centres which serve domestic customers and small businesses will lose their jobs.
There is some suggestion that some field workers, staff who do jobs such as meter installation, may be retained, along with staff who work serving big business customers, but in essence all jobs are under threat.
The background to these cuts is that Npower, like most of the other “Big Six” energy companies, is doing badly at the moment. An attempted merger with SSE fell through. The German firm E.on then took over Npower via a series of acquisitions and mergers. It is now effectively shutting down Npower, and migrating Npower customers over to E.on.
E.on will likely need to expand its own workforce, but they are not talking about trying to integrate 4,500 Npower workers. We’ve been told we can apply for jobs at E.on, but those are mainly located in the Midlands and are unlikely to be much of an alternative for most people unless they relocate.
The unions which organise in Npower — Unite, GMB, and Unison — have all made statements condemning the cuts. Unite’s statement talks about opposing the cuts, and talks about why the company should be nationalised. Unison’s statement talks about public ownership too, but not about any action to save jobs.
The GMB statement is pretty terrible. It blames the price cap “coupled with regulation that sends work overseas whilst sacking energy workers in the UK.” This isn’t relevant to what’s happening here and sets British workers against workers abroad rather than against the bosses.
Cuts on this scale will take a while to implement. The bosses are talking about the whole process being finished in summer 2021, with staggered cuts throughout that time. The fact that the cuts won’t be immediate gives us some opportunity to resist them.
The unions should ballot us for industrial action. We need to discuss what an effective strategy looks like, and where we can have most leverage.
One potential point of pressure is that the company will be expecting us to support the work of migrating customers over to E.on in preparation for Npower being shut down. We have some leverage there, in terms of strikes that could hold up that work.
Politically our unions must also demand that Npower and E.on are nationalised, and lobby the Labour Party to do that if its win the election. This is obviously a key demand for confronting climate change, as well as in terms of protecting our jobs.