(Reuters) - Britain and Ireland’s largest trade union Unite said energy company SSE Plc would cut 444 jobs in its retail sector covering smart meter installation, blaming the move on a lack of interest by customers for the devices that could help cut energy emissions.
Britain has a goal to roll out around 50 million smart meters to almost 30 million homes by the end of 2020.
However, many British energy suppliers have struggled to get customers to take up the new meters, with many put off by early teething problems and issues with some of the first meter’s inability to function if households switched suppliers.
Unite, which has more than 4,000 members at SSE, said it was working with the company to avoid the move over the last six months, but on Wednesday said the situation had not improved.
“Today’s announcement by SSE Retail is disappointing, but not unexpected. Unite will oppose any attempts by the company to introduce compulsory redundancies,” Unite’s national officer for energy and utilities Peter McIntosh, said. He added that Unite would work constructively with SSE.
A December government update on the scheme said around 12.8 million smart meters had been installed by the end of September 2018, making the 2020 target look unlikely.
The government hopes smart meters will encourage people to use less electricity and also contribute to efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions created during fossil fuel power generation, and also to help it meet its climate targets.
Sky News reported that SSE has been looking for ways to shift its loss-making retail arm, including finding buyers, but a spin-off still looks like the most likely option, according to banking sources.
SSE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The company’s shares were 1.6 percent lower at 1,137.5 pence at 1118 GMT.
Reporting by Noor Zainab Hussain in Bengaluru and Susanna Twidale in London; Additional reporting by Clara Denina in London; Editing by Bernard Orr