Garage and jobs cull commences as Rivus fast-tracks Fleet rationalisation

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT, BT Fleet

Just five weeks after asset management group Aurelius announced a major cull of jobs and garages within the former BT Fleet organisation, the first four site closures and associated redundancies are taking place today (Friday).

The sad Valentine’s Day developments at the renamed Rivus Fleet Solutions come only four months after BT pressed ahead with the disputed sale of its previously inhouse vehicle maintenance division to the private equity company. The divestment had been opposed by the CWU from the outset – in large part because of concerns over the future job security of loyal and often longstanding employees. Those fears were borne out on January 13 when Rivus revealed plans to make 65 redundancies, involving 55 team members, from the closure of 11 garages and headcount reductions in two more.

Just 32 days later – after a whirlwind round of fast-tracked IC1, IC2 and IC3 consultation  meetings, during which the CWU has strived to support affected members in every way it possibly could – the Blackburn, Colchester, Motherwell and Walsall garages will close their doors for good this evening. In a fortnight, on Friday February 28, the lights will also go out permanently at the Hereford and Ealing garages – with Dagenham following suit three weeks later on Friday March 20. A week to the day after that, on Friday March 27, the disbanding of the Aberdeen, Boston and Chessington garages will complete a brutally fast site rationalisation exercise that has sent shockwaves throughout the wider Rivus Fleet organisation.

“These are traumatic times,  not just for those directly impacted but also for other CWU members across Rivus as a whole, including those in the garages that are staying open and at the operation’s Birmingham Aquarius head office, “stresses Tracey Fussey – chair of the union’s national team for Rivus Fleet Solutions. “Just four months ago our members in the garages felt pretty secure working for BT, yet now they are seeing nearly a fifth of the garage network and dozens of their colleagues disappear before their very eyes. “There’s a real sense of vulnerability out there – and the national team is already very conscious of the fact that the CWU needs to work closely with not just these members but also the company to try to secure the long-term future of the rest of the garage network.”

First priority…

The union’s first priority, however has been supporting those directly caught up in the current site closure and redundancy programme.“Right across the country the CWU has been accompanying members in consultation meetings, making sure they are fully aware of all the options open to them – but we’ve also been identifying redeployment opportunities and putting forward counter-proposals in an attempt to mitigate redundancies across all the sites and avoid  compulsory redundancies wherever possible,” continues Tracey.

“One big positive that’s come out of that has been the removal of Haverfordwest from the list of garages originally earmarked for closure, thanks to some great counter-proposals put forward by South Wales branch, which Rivus, to their credit, listened to – saving the jobs of two CWU members. “It has also been a priority for the both the union and the company to ensure that everything possible is done to ensure continuity of training for eight apprentices affected by the closure programme, and at present it looks as most of the cases have now been satisfactorily resolved.”

The union has also been keeping close tabs on a VR exercise at the larger Manchester and Cardiff garages which has secured 10 voluntary exists – and across the garages that are closing a number of members have chosen to accept enhanced redundancy packages based on comparatively generous BT terms.

Sad conclusion

Yet despite the successes scored by the CWU in at least mitigating a traumatic compulsory redundancy process, Tracey points out that, for many of those directly affected the impact has been profound. “Of course, for some people it has worked out okay – normally because they were at a point in their lives or had particular individual circumstances which meant redundancy presented an opportunity they wanted to take – but inevitably that isn’t the case for everybody,” she explains.

“Examples include a number of fairly young members with young families who have only recently taken out mortgages. Then there are others who are at an age where finding alternative employment looks challenging – and, of course, the apprentices who only joined BT Fleet in the last year or so who thought they had a secure future with long-term prospects in a good company.”

As such Tracey stresses her deep disappointment that BT chose to ‘sell’ loyal employees to a private equity firm, maintaining to the very end that Fleet was profitable and that those transferring to Aurelius had nothing to fear.
“It is deeply concerning that, despite everything that was said prior to the sale, we’ve found ourselves in this distressing site closure and redundancy programme so quickly,” she concludes.