Blunt warning to the whole of BT Group as industrial action ballot commences in Openreach


The first statutory industrial action ballot in BT Group in more than a decade is now underway, with Openreach management reaping the consequences of their steadfast refusal to address the legitimate concerns of Repayment Project Engineers (RPEs) over imposed changes to their grading and job descriptions.

Today (Thursday) voting papers are being issued to the small but fiercely loyal group of CWU members who last September took the highly  unusual step of asking the union to register their readiness  to take strike action against the inflammatory management move –  voting ‘Yes’ by nine-to-one in a 92% consultative ballot turnout.

At the time it was hoped that such a decisive demonstration of workforce fury  would  force Openreach back to the negotiating table. Such expectations, however, have proved futile – with management instead adopting the same belligerent and uncompromising approach that is wreaking havoc with industrial relations across BT Group.

Significantly, the CWU’s decision to press the ‘nuclear’ button on behalf of its 170-strong RPE membership comes exactly a month to the day since members across BT, Openreach and EE delivered the starkest possible warning that, if necessary, they are prepared to take the company on over unprecedented management attacks on job security and hard won terms and conditions.

In what was undoubtedly the most important consultative vote involving the CWU’s entire BT Group membership since the 1987 national strike, a staggering 97.9% of those casting their vote in a 74% turnout registered their wiliness to take industrial action ahead of a formal strike ballot.

Although the statutory industrial action ballot now underway in Openreach involves less than 1% of those who participated in last month’s consultative poll, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr warns that BT Group management ignores the rising tide of workforce fury at its peril.

“While the particular dynamic of our RPE members’ dispute with Openreach means they are the first of our BT Group members to be  formally balloted for industrial action, they won’t be the last unless BT Group’s top brass intervene to stop the  belligerent and confrontational approach we are now witnessing from management in every BT Group division,” Andy stresses.

“Although the precise nature of the attacks our members are witnessing vary in different lines of business, they ultimately come down to an arrogant and dismissive attitude towards team member employees by senior managers who seem to think they have a divine right to treat to treat staff appallingly and without any dignity or respect.

“That is something that the CWU has never accepted in BT Group before – and we have no intention of doing so now.”

With RPE members now poised to receive their voting papers from tomorrow (Friday), the statutory industrial action will run for a fortnight, with the result being  declared on or about Thursday February 4.  At that point, assuming a ‘Yes’ vote and the company’s continued refusal to change tack, notice will be served for industrial action to commence on or about Thursday February 18.


Small group – but CWU-wide solidarity…

Speaking in an eve of ballot cross-union Facebook Live ‘Solidarity Session’ last night, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr poignantly reiterated the pan-BT significance of the Openreach repayment  project engineers’ ballot that is now underway.

Urging members across the union to make plain their support for the RPEs’ fightback against management belligerence, Andy stressed: “This is a wake-up call for the whole of BT.”

Viewed live by around 2,000 – a figure that had topped 11,000  this afternoon on the union’s Facebook account alone – national officer for Openreach Davie Bowman hit out at management’s “arrogant” refusal to listen to RPE’s heartfelt concerns that Openreach’s decision to shift of their role from the highest team member grade to the lowest rung of the management ladder fundamentally misunderstands the advanced engineering skill-set required to do the job.

“This is an absolute attack on these individuals, it’s an attack on the role and what it will be going forward and this group of members have simply decided that enough is enough,” he concluded.