Prepare to defend our red line on compulsory redundancies, BT branch reps told

Telecoms & Financial Services

Branches with members in BT Enterprise are being urged to ‘prepare for the worst while hoping for the best’ amid blunt CWU warnings to BT that it will have a major fight on its hands if even one compulsory redundancy stems from the hundreds of job losses announced by the division last week.

Last Wednesday’s jobs bombshell immediately prompted a stern reminder to BT that any move to cross the union’s fundamental red line on compulsory redundancies will trigger the most serious labour relations crisis to hit the company since the 1987 national strike. (See story here).

But the seriousness of the situation was again reinforced to branch representatives attending a special forum in Wimbledon on Wednesday this week amid mounting expectations that 367 CWU-represented grade employees will be served formal notice that they are formally ‘at risk’ of redundancy in the next week or so.

Simultaneous to the issuing of those letters, in which individuals will be given a date to attend a one-to-one with their manager, the CWU is expecting to be served a ‘S188 Notification of Redundancy Letter’ which will set out the numbers ‘at risk’ by unit.

Further intensifying the union’s concern, BT has indicated that it will also be submitting an HR1 document to the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy giving the Secretary of State advance notice of collective redundancies   – something that isn’t required under the voluntary approach to headcount reductions that the company has used for decades with the full co-operation with the CWU.

“As Dorothy said (in the Wizard of Oz), ‘we aren’t in Kansas anymore Toto’,” CWU assistant secretary Allan Eldred grimly observed at Wednesday’s branch forum.

Stressing the importance of all ‘at risk’ members being able to exercise their right to CWU representation at their ‘one-to-one’ with their manager, Allan urged branches to re-prioritise workloads and pool resources to ensure that sufficient representation is available.

The darkening mood comes in the wake of last week’s confirmation by management that all areas of team member staffing are affected in Enterprise Service – including Field Services, Customer Service and Managed Services units. This includes the frontline contact and technical centres.

The CWU has already moved swiftly to impress on BT Group’s top brass that the union’s expectation that the company will work within existing agreements to address staff surplus in the time-honoured way is non-negotiable.

This includes the company adhering to the terms of a legally binding redundancy agreement contained within the recent Pensions Agreement that stipulates that, before formalising any proposals that include potential redundancy, BT and the CWU will jointly aim to resolve any identified surplus through a combination of:

  • Redeployment, with associated retraining and reskilling
  • In-sourcing of previously off-shored or contracted out work
  • Natural wastage hastened by recruitment slowdowns or freezes
  • Contractor and agency displacement
  • Rebalancing workloads and the control of overtime
  • The offering of enhanced voluntary leaver packages.

Stressing the CWU’s willingness to work constructively with BT to achieve its headcount aims in line with the time-honoured principle of voluntarism, Allan continued: “There will undoubtedly be those who want to go voluntarily, and there will certainly be scope for redeployment – especially in the larger centres – and we’re already in discussion with the business to identify all available opportunities for that.

“We’ll work constructively with the company to help it achieve what it is looking for under existing agreements – but have also made it abundantly clear to management that if there’s one compulsory redundancy – even just one – we’ll take industrial action. If people choose to take a VR package that’s down to them, but what about the 40-year-old with three kids who’s located in an isolated building? That’s the person we’ll be defending.

“I can only imagine the fear that many will be feeling when they know there will be job losses in their section. That anxiety alone is something we need to eliminate – and the only way we can do that is by being seen as a union that is prepared to take the company on if that proves necessary.”

Insisting he was convinced that the CWU’s resolute response has already impacted management thinking, Allan pointed out that the number of job losses being proposed has already fallen from the ‘400 to 600’ announced at the  first meeting, to roughly 400 in the second meeting, and then to the current total of 367 people in scope for 219 job losses.

“I’m certain, however, that the only way we’re going to stop compulsory redundancy in this company is if they understand we’ll deliver industrial action if they try it,” Allan concludes. “That’s why we need to be telling members across BT what’s going on and preparing them for what may lie ahead.”


For the sake of absolute clarity, the CWU will not be budging its red line on the issue of compulsory redundancy one iota. I don’t care if it is one person, a hundred or a thousand. If just one person is threatened with compulsory redundancy we will start the campaign for industrial action immediately.”

CWU Deputy General Secretary (T&FS) Andy Kerr