Betrayed by BT: Individual redundancy injustices that unmask management’s lost moral compass

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Tuesday 12th January 2021

In the first of a series of articles exploring the devastating impact of BT’s new found enthusiasm for compulsory redundancies on individuals who find themselves at the sharp end, we look at how management’s shunning of tried and tested redeployment mechanisms has led to a gruesome postcode lottery…

The devastating ramifications for employees of the brutal new management approach sweeping across BT is not just illustrated by the scores of compulsory redundancies that have already reached their sad conclusions, and dozens more that are currently underway.

Arguably an even starker illustration of the depths to which BT has plumbed is revealed in the way in which potential redeployment options – that in previous times would have been actively embraced to prevent the forced exiting of loyal employees – are now being actively thwarted.

In the decades  that  followed privatisation in 1984, tens of thousands left the business without the need for a single compulsory redundancy on account of an enlightened approach to headcount reductions that had the principle of voluntarism at its core.

Facilitating that approach were a series of agreements between the union and management that ensured genuine redeployment opportunities for displaced team members who did not want to take the option of a VR package.

Key safeguards negotiated by the union included Pay and Pension Protection (PPP) for redeployees directed into lower graded roles in situations where no opportunities for sideways shifts existed.

Underpinning the entire process, a separate agreement on the Effective Deployment of Displaced Individuals (EDDI) set out the rights and responsibilities of those being redeployed – while the now disbanded ‘BT Transition Centre’ provided practical assistance matching redeployees’ skill sets to available job across BT Group.

Amid the current turmoil in BT, both PPP and EDDI are being challenged by the business as never before  – just when multiple uncoordinated transformation programmes in different lines of business are coinciding with the initial stages of massive so-called ‘Better Workplace’ site rationalisation programme.

With BT currently intending to concentrate activities that are currently conducted in hundreds of sites into just 30 key locations nationwide, the potential for staff displacement on a gargantuan scale is plain to see.

That makes it particularly chilling that, when BT Enterprise claimed BT Group’s first ever team member compulsory redundancy scalp  last May – despite multiple CWU appeals on behalf of the female Brighton homeworker  – the business rationale for the final brutal act was shaky to say to say the least.

Allan Eldred

Predicated on the basis of Enterprise’s withdrawal from the Swindon site to which the member had been badged for years – travelling there, as required, up to a maximum of three days a week – management resolutely refused to reconsider alternatives to redundancy, even though the member was willing to replicate that attendance at new offices in Bristol.

“It really could have been as simple as management rebadging the individual to Bristol – a simple change of postcode on BT’s employee database,” stresses CWU assistant secretary Allan Eldred. “Effectively nothing would have changed as far as the business was concerned – as, when not working from home, she was happy to commute to Bristol instead of Swindon – despite significant additional travelling time.

 “Management’s intransigence on this wholly unnecessary, even perverse, compulsory redundancy fuelled CWU suspicions from the outset that it was essentially a ritual sacrifice, pressed to its irrational conclusion to make an ideological point of principle rather than for any genuine  business reason.

“Sadly that conclusion has been borne out time and time again in the latter half of last year, with compulsory redundancy processes being repeatedly used to address comparatively tiny staff surpluses in different lines of business – needlessly creating untold anxiety and upset in situations that could easily have been addressed, or at the very least substantially mitigated, with a voluntary approach.”

Highlighting the importance of the CWU’s Count Me In’ campaign fightback against BT’s current trajectory, Allan concludes: “Ultimately we have no choice but to fight in defence of job security and all the hard won Ts&Cs and agreements secured by the union over many decades. Those agreements are now under unprecedented attack by the company that agreed them.  Whether those attacks are in BT, EE or Openreach, there is no choice but to hit back.”

  • ‘Push us at your peril’, BT Group warned: See story about last month’s 97.9% consultative ballot vote on industrial action here

Coming next: Another member’s dilemma – compulsory redundancy or a £13,000 pay cut?

(See story here)