BT 2 year probationary periods slammed

Telecoms & Financial Services

BT’s decision to impose 24-month probationary periods on all new joiners – including former agency staff who’ve already given many months and sometimes years of service – was met with a tirade of anger at CWU Annual Conference, with delegates lambasting the move on multiple levels.

No fewer than four motions dealing with the issue were debated, with delegates queuing up to criticise a “breach of natural justice” that is destroying morale, costing the company millions, leading good staff to seek jobs elsewhere and generally giving the impression to new recruits on whom the success of the business will ultimately depend that they aren’t valued by the organisation.

Rounding on a surge in the number of Final Formal Warnings (FFWs) being issued for even the smallest issues – generating untold stress and upset amongst new recruits the company should be nurturing – branches unanimously passed all four motions, which respectively commit the T&FS Executive to open talks with BT with a view to getting:

  • The probationary period reduced to one year for all new joiners
  • The 24-month period removed from existing contracts
  • The previous good service of ‘converted’ agency members being taken into consideration with their BT probation reduced accordingly
  • A cessation of the practice of Final Formal Warnings being handed out like confetti
  • A commitment that all cases are dealt with in line with the ACAS code of practice.

Opening a debate that left BT observers in the CWU Conference visitors’ gallery under no illusion as to the scale of anger amongst branches on the issue, Bryan Bell of Scotland No.1 explained how, as a former Manpower employee ‘converted’ to a BT contract after seven months in the job, the issue was “deeply personal” to him as BT’s change of policy had effectively extended his probationary period to an eye-watering 31 months.

“That’s 31 months of walking on eggshells, scared to make a mistake because it could possibly be your last,” he stressed.

Pointing out the crass unfairness to new starters, John Brownlie of Edinburgh, Dundee & Borders cited two cases handled by his branch within a ten-day period where FFWs had been triggered by pregnancy-related absences.

Martyn Sharp of East Midlands added: “You’d think BT would want to protect its new employees because these young people are the ones on whom the success of the business will ultimately depend.”

Debbie Hardy of Somerset Devon and Cornwall admitted she was at a loss to see how the new joiner process benefits anyone – least of all the business.

“It not only results in unfair dismissals with no recourse to employment tribunals but also lowers moral and raises attrition.

“Members who are put on a FFW for the smallest breach of the attendance, performance or discipline processes lose trust and confidence with the employer and, faced with the situation where they could lose their job and potentially their home, they sometimes think the better option is to jump rather than be pushed.

“Why recruit people just to set them up to fail? I truly believe that BT’s reputation as an employer is shot to pieces by their refusal to reverse this policy.”

Soundbites from the debate

Vicki Cornelius, Birmingham, Black Country & Worcester: “It’s very hard for young workers, maybe just out of school or college and just getting into the vibe of working, to keep a clean nose for that period of time. BT’s losing good people, at what cost to the business I just don’t know. It’s ridiculous getting them trained and experienced and then letting them go like this.”

Jacky Morrey, Mid Wales, the Marches & North Staffs: “This quite literally cannot be fair. We have people coming into the business with chronic long-term illnesses that the business is fully aware of before giving them a BT contract – but the moment they need any time off it’s a black mark against them, and heaven forbid if they end up breaching the Bradford Factor.”

Dave Jukes, CWU assistant secretary: “I don’t know why the company is so dogmatic about this unfairness. It’s inexplicable to me, even if you take it down to economics. Why would you treat people who are potentially the future of the company in this way?”

Jacqui Stewart, Lancs & Cumbria: “It beggars belief that BT feels it necessary to have a 24-month probation period. Are they worried about their own judgement when a new entrant has done an assessment test, passed an interview, had police checks, passed training, passed grad bay and then been watched like a hawk? What is BT afraid of?”

Tracey Fussey, NEC member: “It’s a total disgrace that people who’ve worked at BT, on some occasions for already up to 16 years on ‘short-term’ agency contracts, then have to jump through further hoops proving their worth to BT. It’s simply degrading.”

Steve Donnell, Greater Mersey & South West Lancs: “BT has to start treating people properly – they have to look after them because they are the company’s future. If you were growing flowers you’d take your cuttings, plant them and look after them – you wouldn’t go around stomping on them and killing them before they’ve had a chance to grow and mature!”

Tracy Buckley, T&FS member: “It speaks volumes that a whole section at Conference with five motions are about BT’s deplorable approach to new employees.”