Northern Ireland visit tackles the key issues

John East
Core union concerns such as pay, staffing and leave topped the agenda when CWU assistant secretary John East, accompanied by Telecoms Executive members Simon Trim and Tom Cooper, visited CWU members and branch officials in Northern Ireland.

The whistle-stop tour at the end of January, started off at the Fujitsu factory in Antrim, at a meeting organised by lead rep Stuart Dawkins. Production workers there raised issues around staffing levels, work allocation and forthcoming pay discussions. Members were insistent that they wanted a consolidated pay rise after having to accept an extra day of leave instead last year. A subsequent meeting will consider what that claim should be.

At Virgin Media, members and branch officials debated the union's fight against the company's shocking derecognition of the CWU in November, strongly backing any campaign to force VM to recognise the CWU again. Members felt Virgin had already moved the goalposts on the previously agreed "Aspire" scheme for grading advancement of Network Engineers, setting arbitrary limits on who can progress to higher grades, regardless of performance. They also reported a lack of progress on agreed processes to allow engineers and technicians to take lunch breaks, or hand work back at the end of the day when overloaded. Members agreed to feed in ideas for campaigning issues to boost membership.

At the BT Fleet workshop in Mollusk, working practices, training, resource levels and allocated task times headed the bill. At a brief meeting organised by rep Robert Clarke, rumours of shift changes and the ability to take annual leave were of particular concern. John and Simon agreed to raise all these issues with senior management and report back.

Local rep Steve Palmer set up a further meeting where BT Supply Chain drivers, stores hub staff and testing staff wanted to discuss a major concern over the reliance on agency staff. While the union accepts that in certain circumstances agency workers are needed, it stresses that they should be fairly treated, and BT should not be abusing union agreements by having a permanent shadow workforce. Some members said they had worked for BT for years as agency employees before getting a contract and, the volume of work remaining high, it was clear that the six agency staff in the depot should be employees. John will raise matter this once again at the next meeting with the company.

John also informed members there that he had raised recent rumours about testers being transferred to BT Fleet. As a result, the company has put out a briefing clarifying that although this was being considered, no decision had yet been taken, and would not be taken without full consultation with the CWU.

The visit to Northern Ireland ended with an extremely lively branch meeting where, following a hotly contested vote, members elected their delegates to Conference and decided on the propositions they would submit.

To find out more about CWU work in telecommunication companies in Northern Ireland contact the Northern Ireland Telecoms branch.

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