Assurances sought for members as O2/Virgin Media tie-up plans are confirmed

Telecoms & Financial Services

The CWU has already flagged up job security and the protection of members’ terms and conditions of employment as the union’s number one priority in the discussions that that will follow this morning’s announcement of a potentially industry-changing tie-up between O2 and Virgin Media.

Following feverish media speculation over a possible ‘merger’ between the companies last weekend – and Telefonica’s confirmation on Monday morning that talks were underway – the union understands that late last night an in-principle agreement was struck by both parties for a ’50:50 joint venture’ that would create one of the UK’s largest entertainment and telecoms providers.

That development was confirmed to CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge today in an early morning call with Telefonica, immediately prior to the proposed tie-up being announced to the Stock Exchange.

The news was broken to staff in Telefonica UK first thing this morning  in a special briefing from CEO Mark Evans, who himself participated in an 8am ‘All Company’ call to explain the dramatic development which, if ultimately realised, will represent the biggest shakeup of the  UK’s mobile/broadband industry since  BT’s acquisition of EE in January 2016.

In his earlier written briefing to staff,  Mr Evans confirmed that “things aren’t going to change overnight”, confirming that “we still need to obtain regulatory approval before the deal can be completed and both Telefonica UK and Virgin Media can join together, which is likely to take us to mid-2021.”

He added: “The deal is in its infancy and there are many details and specifics still to work through. I recognise that this will create many questions for some of you.”

That truism – reflected in immediate feedback to the union from anxious members – underpins the CWU’s swift move to highlight the need for clarity as to what the tie-up will mean in practice for job security and Ts&Cs as soon as possible.

“As things stand the truth is that this morning’s announcement poses more questions than answers for CWU members in both Telefonica/O2 and VM,” stresses Sally, who is the CWU’s national officer for members in Telefonica.

“At this point we do not know the specifics of the deal that was made during the early hours of this morning – particularly the detail of the ‘50:50 split’  and whether this represents is a true ‘merger’, in the traditional sense, or whether there will be separate entities going forward.

“We have, however, already posed direct questions regarding job security and the protection of Ts&Cs, and Telefonica has assured the CWU that there will be full consultation with the union. It is, of course, our intention to keep members updated on all developments.”

Similar opportunities for dialogue don’t exist at Virgin Media – following the company’s unilateral and unprovoked decision to derecognise the CWU in November 2012 – but the union is equally determined to provide as much clarity as possible for members across the VM as soon as possible.

Sally concludes: “In these uncertain times – with COVID-19, and everything that is in the news about potential job losses across the UK economy already compounding people’s concerns about their health and well-being – first and foremost members need assurances at the earliest possible opportunity that their jobs and Ts&Cs are secure.

“It’s too early to tell yet where all this is going to lead, but CWU members can rest assured that the union will be watching out for their interests every inch of the way.”