Battle goes on for Highlands BT Business jobs

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

The CWU has pledged to maintain the fight for badly needed high quality employment in Alness amid a fast growing backlash against BT’s planned abandonment of the remote Scottish town. 

Following on from BT Business’s outright rejection last Thursday of carefully considered CWU proposals to save quality jobs to in an area of high unemployment, an entire community is uniting in disgust at the company’s refusal consider flexible working options

At the eye of the storm are just over 80 CWU-represented grade employees at the Ardroy House and Culgraggie House customer service contact centres which are scheduled for closure on February 29.

All have been placed ‘at risk’ of possible redundancy in an area where alternative employment opportunities are few and far between – prompting an understandably horrified response that is being forcefully articulated by local politicians and the Scottish media.

Under BT Business’s current proposals, the CS work currently conducted in Alness is earmarked to be moved to the division’s Better Workplace Programme hub sites in Manchester or Dundee – neither of which are practicably commutable, especially on a daily basis. Alness is around 390 miles by car from Manchester – and even the 155 mile journey to Dundee takes three hours by car or four-and-a-quarter hours by public transport.

However, faced with the very real threat to their future employment if a practical solution cannot be found, a large cohort of impacted members attending a specially convened emergency CWU members meeting earlier this month agreed that  hybrid working involving regularly scheduled attendances at either Dundee or at BT Business’s Managed Services site at Thurso could potentially be viable.

These ideas were subsequently feasibility checked and costed by the CWU’s BT Business National Team – and a fortnight ago the union submitted a detailed counter-proposal for a site-specific variation of BT’s Hybrid Working policy (three days in the office and two anywhere else) to a pattern that recognises the exceptional geographical challenges of Alness’s remote location.

At the end of last week, however, the CWU’s proposal – for  two or three attendances a month in Dundee or one day per  week in Thurso, plus additional days when face-to-face team meetings or training is required – was summarily dismissed by BT Business on the basis that it ‘does not adhere’ to the letter of BT’s ‘principles for smart-working’.

Management’s current position, if maintained, would effectively close down the only viable alternative to mass redundancies.

Bizarrely, BT’s justification ignores both the business and individual costs associated with mass redundancies – narrowly focussing instead on “additional management overheads” that the union fiercely disputes.

CWU national officer Allan Eldred explains: “The inflexibility and irrationality of BT’s position is demonstrated by the fact that throughout the pandemic our members in Alness, along with many of thousands of others across the country, kept UK PLC running, working from home – yet here they are making a meal out of “increased management travel costs”, citing examples that are patently ridiculous.

“The truth is that with a little thought and planning any face-to-face meetings that managers need with individuals or teams could easily be conducted on the days those individuals are in Dundee – with Zoom providing a fallback in the rare cases where that simply isn’t possible.

“The suggestion that managers would have to spend hours and hours travelling to Alness in hire cars in all weathers is completely fallacious, given that after the closure of Ardroy House and Culgraggie House next February there wouldn’t be a site for them to travel to!

“The CWU’s solution – which we still maintain would be cost-neutral to BT at worst and more likely cost-saving once you’ve factored in the business costs of redundancy and needing to replace highly experienced staff – is all about trying to find a practical solution that minimises pain. All BT is doing, by comparison, is parroting its smart working policies as if they are set in stone as a reason why an entire community must suffer.”

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr agrees, contrasting management’s current with the willingness of Alness members to undertake regular commutes to Dundee or Thurso that fall far outside the normal bounds of ‘reasonable travelling time’ in order to save their jobs.

“Where there is a will do the right thing there’s generally a way of achieving it – and BT Business owes it to its hard working and loyal employees in Alness to review its position.”

Allan concludes: “My message to BT Business is that their rejection of our counter-proposal definitely isn’t the end of the story. The CWU is already working on further counter-proposals but we’re also building on the engagement that has already begun with Scottish influencers who are rightly outraged at the company’s current position.”