Technology outrage a ‘new low for BT’ as CWU launches ‘Count me In’ call to armsTelecoms & Financial Services, BT July 22 2020
Wednesday 22nd July 2020
Mounting industrial tension associated with the massive reorganisation that is currently underway across BT Group has now hit BT Technology with a vengeance. Following the division’s announcement today 22nd July, of around 150 redundancies – most of which look likely to be compulsory from an in-scope group of just 200 employees – the CWU is at loggerheads with a management approach that inexplicably appears calculated to cause maximum employee pain.
The redundancy bombshell, which represents just the initial salvo of a phased programme of job losses – makes Technology just the second BT division to break with the time-honoured principle of voluntarism in staff surplus situations.
But, unlike Enterprise, which made the first team member grade compulsory redundancy in BT’s history on May 31 – a full nine months after an initial VR exercise limited the scale of the still fiercely disputed compulsory redundancy (CR) cull – Technology is looking to fast-track its planned exits, with the job losses coming into effect by September.
In itself, the truncated timescale will seriously limit the time available to identify suitable redeployment opportunities for those who do not emerge successful in the scramble for remaining jobs in the in-scope parts of Dynamic Infrastructure and Cyber Security.
But, worse still, the redundancy selection criteria that Technology is currently intent on using, despite vehement objections by the CWU, don’t even allow for volunteers to put themselves forward for voluntary leaver packages – thereby preventing willing leavers minimising the CR pain for those who wish to stay.
“We’re in entirely uncharted territory, because even with the bitterly disputed compulsory job losses that are currently underway in Enterprise, that process began with a meaningful VR exercise,” stresses CWU national officer for BT Technology Sally Bridge.
“In Technology, however the selection criteria don’t even allow for volunteers to step forward in most cases. Instead, they’re moving direct to selection and only then are those selected for redundancy going to be given the opportunity to opt for voluntary redundancy – clearly a Hobson’s choice given that if they don’t then opt to leave voluntarily they’ll be made compulsorily redundant!
“Even management’s proposed timescale for the first phase of redundancies are completely unacceptable, as in some instances they barely even allow for the statutory notice period – let alone time for meaningful consultation or serious efforts to find alternative roles for loyal employees who want to remain working for BT.
“Remember, these very same people have played a critical role maintaining the nation’s connectivity during an international disaster, working throughout the pandemic on account of their ‘key worker’ status.”
Sally continues: “The fact that some of these very individuals are now being targeted for compulsory redundancy with no serious efforts being made by their employer to even adhere to Government guidelines that stipulate the need to strive to avoid compulsion wherever possible simply beggars belief – especially when you consider this treatment is being dished out by a major blue chip company which operates in a sector that has been less profoundly negatively affected by Covid-19 than many other parts of the economy.
“For the CWU’s Technology National Team this is an utterly unacceptable new low that BT has stooped to. Following a breakdown in discussions with the division the National Team has now escalated the issue – but the fact is that we’re already in a grave situation, with more redundancies certain to cascade into other business units in the imminent future.
“That’s on top of the 30 pre-existing redeployees in Technology who were displaced in October under the initial manifestation of the consolidation and automation initiatives gripping the division. Their fate has now been sealed by a 180 degree about-turn by management on time-honoured redeployment principles which means they will be they will be the first pre-existing team member redeployees ever to have been made compulsorily redundant in BT Group.”
Worst case scenario
Commenting on the next wave of Technology’s transformation intentions, National Team member Dave Stuart continues: “The way the company is currently intent about going about the next selection process will mean that it’s inevitable from the outset that people will be pushed out who want to stay, while other people will be compelled to stay when the would actually have preferred, for their own reasons, to take a voluntary leaver package.
National team chair Ken Woolley adds: “It’s a worst case scenario, whichever way you look at it.”
Fellow National Team member Ian Tomlinson points out that a further weird mutation of the company’s current approach will mean that individuals working on legacy platforms which are not quite ready to be switched off are likely to be denied the opportunity to apply for VR now, but may not be able to secure the terms of up to two years’ pay that are currently available for long-serving staff members by the time Technology ultimately decides to dispense with them.
That’s because of BT Group’s separate serving of notice on the Pensions Agreement of which includes a legally binding annexe on the terms that are available in redundancy situations. (See story here)
A detailed explanation of the many issues on which the CWU’s BT Technology National Team is currently at loggerheads with the division are outlined in today’s member’s bulletin – but at the heart of the dispute currently unfolding in Technology are several key areas in which the union believes the stance being taken by the division is morally bankrupt.
- Management’s refusal to consider every single CWU counter-proposal that the union believes could significantly mitigate the need for any compulsory redundancies: Amongst a number of CWU suggestions that have been summarily ruled out by the company to date include the widening the selection pool and extending a genuine VR option to employees who may be at a stage in their career where voluntary leaver packages may be attractive
- Management’s refusal to date to engage meaningfully with the CWU on a raft of CR-mitigating measures which should be legally binding under an annexe to the 2018 Pensions Agreement: These include obligations on BT to work jointly with the CWU to resolve staff surpluses through a combination of redeployment, insourcing of previously off-shored or contracted out work, contractor and agency displacement and the offering of enhanced voluntary leaver packages before any actual redundancy proposals can formalised.
- Management’s refusal to reconsider the breakneck speed with which the division is currently intent on concluding its job losses – a haste that means those who don’t emerge as ‘survivors’ in the looming selection exercise will be racing against the clock for redeployment opportunities that are increasingly scarce as a result of pan-BT site rationalisations associated with the ‘Better Workplace Programme’.
Pointing out that the current unprecedented threat to the job security of CWU members in Technology is coming to the fore even before the full impact of the division’s eye-wateringly ambitious ‘Better Workplace’ plans to consolidate most of its operations from more than 400 sites into just six ‘UK Hubs’ is fully understood, Sally stresses: “The two issues of Better Workplace and business transformation are coming together in the worst possible way – and sadly the crisis we are now facing in Technology looks set to be the precursor of wider upheavals across the whole of BT Group.
“That’s why it’s absolutely essential that members across the company fully engage with the CWU’s Count Me In campaign – because it’s only by standing firm collectively for a future in which all those with a stake in with the company are treated with dignity and respect that we’ll be able to challenge the devastating trajectory that management has embarked upon.”