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Risk of National UK BT Strike Averted After CWU Agreement

Thursday, July 8th, 2021 (10:21 am) - Score 4,440
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Telecoms giant BT has today announced that they’ve managed to reach an agreement with the Communications Workers Union (CWU), which represents around 40,000 of the operator’s staff (BT, Openreach and EE), in order to avoid the looming prospect of a major national strike.

Back in March 2021 the CWU announced that they had “taken the decision to move to an official national industrial action ballot” for all employees after failing to resolve various points of disagreement, which stemmed from concern over job losses via the mass closure of sites and contract changes that impacted various areas, such as pensions and pay etc.

Shortly after that BT proposed to offer around 59,000 frontline UK workers a “special bonus” of £1,500 to recognise their efforts in helping to keep customers and the country connected to broadband, phone and mobile services during the pandemic. The CWU immediately characterised this as a “bribe to not vote for strike action” (here).

But in May 2021 the fears of an ugly confrontation on the picket lines began to subside after both sides took steps to reduce the tension. As a result, BT paused its redundancy programme and the CWU paused its plan to trigger the statutory industrial action ballot process.

What’s Changed?

BT said they’ve agreed a new set of principles, covering areas such as pay and redundancy, that will “ensure our colleagues continue to be treated fairly and with respect as we focus on growth, simplifying customer journeys, reducing the number of systems we have and transforming our offices into future fit workplaces.”

The agreement with the CWU covers three key areas:

  • Pay – BT have committed to implement a pay increase for team members (a commitment we’ve also made to our management teams) in the UK that will be awarded next year.  The precise details will be determined nearer the time and will depend on various factors including business performance, economic outlook and inflation. Discussions with both of our unions (the CWU and Prospect) will begin in the usual way and in good time for the reviews to be implemented.
  • The Better Workplace Programme – BT have agreed to look at the timing and location of some of the sites we are proposing to close in order to minimise the impact on our people. During the next 12 months we’ll only propose to close buildings where we anticipate colleagues can relocate to an alternative location. We’ve drawn up a set of principles which will guide our future planning and we’ll continue to talk to the union as we develop the plan. There are no changes to locations and sites previously announced.
  • Redundancy – Once BT’s proposed modernisation programme is complete, we’ll be a leaner, simpler and more agile organisation with fewer people.  As much as possible, this will be achieved through natural attrition as around 10,000 colleagues choose to leave BT a year. In areas where we may need to look at reducing roles, we’ve made a commitment to consider steps to avoid compulsory redundancy where we reasonably can. Where appropriate we’ll do this by seeking volunteers through the broader use of voluntary paid leaver schemes, supporting colleagues to move to new roles by retraining and reskilling, and helping them to move to new locations.

At the time of writing, we’ve yet to see the CWU release an official comment on this.

A BT Spokesperson said:

“As we implement our plans to build a better BT for the future, how we get there is every bit as important as the detail of our plans. Reaching this agreement is the culmination of intensive negotiations between BT and the CWU and it also recognises their role as a critical stakeholder as BT moves forward with its modernisation plans.

The continued support and dedication of our colleagues, our unions and their members is paramount and the agreement announced today will allow us to progress BT’s modernisation agenda and enable us to achieve our cost savings targets. Our outlook therefore remains unchanged.”

The agreement looks to be a broadly positive development, although no doubt the CWU will be keeping a close eye to ensure that BT holds to what they’ve promised. The operator has in recent years been caught somewhat between a rock and a hard place, not least thanks to a declining share price and the need to fund a major £15bn rollout of FTTP across the UK, which has required some restructuring and resultant job losses.

However, it probably doesn’t hurt that BT, having passed through a very problematic period, is now being viewed much more favourably by the market, which since the end of last year has seen their share price climb and Altice UK take out a major 12.1% stake in the operator (here).

UPDATE 10:42am

The CWU has now issued a statement, which confirms that they’ve endorsed the agreement.

Andy Kerr, CWU Deputy General Secretary (T&FS), said:

“The agreement represents a huge turnaround from where we were 18 months ago, and I want to be absolutely clear – this is because of the Count Me In campaign and the outstanding support we have received from our branches and members.

Better Workplace – We have moved from the position of arbitrary change to one of negotiation. We genuinely believe the agreement we have reached will: protect jobs; puts the union back in the room; and delivers a new framework, which moves BT away from making knee-jerk decisions, without our agreement.

Pay – We were told 18 months ago there was no money for pay. The pressure of the campaign forced BT into making the £1000 Bonus payment. We do not agree that this is enough but through these negotiations, it has been clear that pay is a major issue for the employer. Despite this, we have agreed a plan for simplifying and resolving currently unagreed pay points, which will benefit a significant number of CWU members, and we have also secured a commitment to a consolidated pay rise for all CWU Represented Grades in April 2022. None of this was on the table before our campaign.

Redundancy – BT were moving ahead, at pace, with an unagreed plan which would have cut thousands of jobs. Change will still happen, but it will be negotiated, and we will see proper consultation and engagement. We have secured protections for our members in this area and the chance for the union to input directly – at Group level – into the future strategy.

This agreement will increase job security, secure UK based roles, implement fairer grading and pay structures, see the opportunity for upskilling and see the union become a powerful stakeholder rather than an observer to BT’s plans.

The employer’s strategy is a long term one and that will mean this agreement is a living and breathing document. With this in mind, we will continue to engage members throughout the coming months on any progress (or otherwise) we make with the company. It is crucial that despite reaching agreement, we maintain the pressure and momentum that we achieved with the Count Me In campaign. It is this approach which has shifted BT Group.

In the coming weeks we will engage with members on the full terms of the agreement via podcasts, videos, and email.

My final message is one of thanks. The work that has been done, across the union in the last 18 months has been incredible. We have gained new members, representatives, and activists. It is because of your work and the countless meetings and communications that we are in a more positive position.”

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
18 Responses
  1. Mike says:

    Looks like BT gave into the Communist Workers Union, they should close the buildings and send the staff to dig fibre trenches.

    1. A_Builder says:

      As ever it is in the nuances which are the face saving apparatus for both sides.

      80% of nothing will have changed. 10% will have been delayed. 10% will be shelved because it will have little or no impact and just upset people.

      The union will crow about the 10% and the management will be relieved that 80% of what they wanted to get done will get done.

      The more enlightened elements of the workforce will also be quietly happy that, much needed, modernisation is going ahead.

      The last thing the union needs is to damage BT as it needs to get FTTP in the ground and working ASAP and get copper switched off to support its share price and vitally the pension funding.

    2. Ribble says:

      Difficult to see what BT have conceded to here.

    3. Disgruntled Openreach Engineer says:

      Communist worker Union? You’re a clown. BT have taken these incompetent spineless CWU capitualators to the cleaners.

      As a member within BT I will gladly publicly say I want my ballot. I deserve a pay rise as does every other member for working through Coronavirus and the £1,000 bribe money wasn’t taken by all as it would have left them financially worse off. Furthermore that 1-2% payrise compounds itself year on year, meaning cumulatively it’s maybe £300-600 this year but it all adds up when we consider overtime and pension contributions.

      BT, as far as I’m concerned, are delaying the strike. The workforce aren’t happy and this isn’t the agreement required to settle the poor morale in the workplace. The CWU are totally incompetent at representing BT workforce interests and I personally think they are on the take, I have no evidence other than the obviously bad negotiations of recent years. Capitulation after capitulation. The capitulation experts at the CWU couldn’t negotiate their way out of a paper bag.

  2. joe says:

    Mainly time Ribble.

  3. Mark Wright says:

    Pay rise for next year???

  4. NoJobExBT says:

    Too late for the people all ready forced into compulsory redundancy

  5. Buggerlugz says:

    Seems to be a lot going on here. BT talk a good game, but don’t have a stellar record on delivering their promises, likewise the CWU is on-par with Keir Starmer taking the credit for a win when they’ve won absolutely nothing.

    The CWU talks the talk (like all unions) but needs to “walk the walk” too, this won’t happen unless it goes ahead with the ballot though instead of capitulating (for absolutely no guarantee of anything whatsoever).

    Regardless of the bribe the CWU needs to actually represent its members who (due to zero trust in their employer) are still crying out for that strike ballot.

    1. HDB3 says:

      Which promises haven’t BT delivered?

  6. NotImpressed says:

    At least the CWU are better than prospect who don’t have the clout to do anything other than agree to anything BT says. How can a telecommunications company sell a capability to allow staff to work from home or any office location to other companies, yet BT wants all its employees to be co-located in certain buildings depending on the part of the business you are in. The scenario you’re left with is ridiculous, I could move from Scotland to Ipswich due to my role moving but then still not be with my team in a co-located building as we don’t have fixed desks anyway. As much use as a chocolate tea-pot!

  7. PS says:

    shouldn’t BT be worried why 10000 a year want to leave – shocking – that’s 1 in 10 will leave in the next 12 months. As an employee I’d want to know why and not celebrate the fact that BT will be leaner.

    Doen’s sound like a great place to work

  8. Beena Wright-Mug says:

    what agreements?
    all I see is commitments to discus further…So BT will allow the CWU a seat at the table and we are supposed to celebrate that as a win for the workers. How is that a a win ? 18 months of talks that have resulted in No Pay rise, No agreements on Job security, a promise that The CWU can sit at the table whilst BT cut jobs and implement better work place, resulting in people having to extend their days by 1-4hrs to travel to a new office, to sit at a new desk, doing the same job they have done from home for the last 12 months.
    if Andy Kerr thinks that’s a good deal I have a friend who is a prince in Nigeria who would love to talk to him about moving billion dollars out of the country.

    #CWUBallot

  9. Bob Smith says:

    This is all lies and nonsense, even from the union. It only affects some ‘team’ members (call centre, engineers) , so everyone else (eg IT, etc) are just fodder. Right now people are given a choice of leave or move to an office 400 miles away, with just months notice, ie thousands will be thrown out by Christmas. So much for the union. And prospect, literally the most useless union in the world, are doing nothing.

    The irony of BT trying to sell digital workplaces from their portfolio and a massively successful pandemic with people working from home. But they’re forcing staff into offices and every desk is a hot desk so you’re not even with your team.

    Note, this is not about cutting ‘middle management’ and bloat as the bt haters will say, they are almost not quite literally shooting themselves in the foot dumpong people en masse, failing even more projects and halting and cancelling others. Both BT and openreach. Not to mention the knowledge being lost.

    And you can’t just work from any better workplace office either, you have to go to the one you’re entire team is in.

  10. Sir Billy Thomas says:

    Being a Civil Servant who worked through the pandemic, in an office with public, taking personal risk – I got zero pay rise, zero bonus and zero movement on my payscale.

    So good luck to the union, ours (PCS) is a waste of time.

  11. Joy says:

    I was told today take an offer by end of august or go in March on statutory. Disgusting.

  12. Roy Rogers says:

    Ask Hanson about his tax fiddle he had going on for years …mark murphy HR head is engineering all these redundancies?..

  13. Anon says:

    The bonus was £1000 and after tax, closer to £700. Any bonus is good but it was VERY deceiving.

  14. RetiredYippee says:

    I left because of this. The roots of it go back to a progressive culture shift following privatisation in 1984. I couldn’t be doing with an employer that spoke with forked tongue. I wouldn’t trust them and was bitterly disappointed that the CWU sold out. The company may be saying they will negotiate but they said they were doing that before. This will be seen by them as tweaks and fine tuning to business as usual, which they can of course go back on later if they feel that way inclined.

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