BT accused of disproportionately targeting women in multiple attacks on workforce

Telecoms & Financial Services

Thursday 26th November 2020

Contrasts have been drawn between the public pronouncements of a company that likes to bask in the glory of equality and diversity plaudits and the actual effect of BT’s current full-scale assault on team member job security and Ts&Cs.

In a withering assessment of the disproportionate impact of many of the changes being imposed by management on female employees, the company has been warned to practice what it preaches on equality issues before any further celebration of the multiple awards it has won over the years for its much touted commitment to equal opportunities in its employment policies.

Speaking in a special ‘Counting Women In’ Facebook Live session– organised to promote the importance of members delivering an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in the consultative ballot on industrial action that is currently underway (see story here) – a panel of speakers highlighted that even now women only make up around 23% of BT Group’s entire workforce.

And with many of the company moves that the CWU is presently challenging in the ‘Count Me In’ campaign of resistance already impacting hardest in those parts of the company female employment levels are the highest, fears are growing that the already less than one- in-four female-to-male ratio could actually decline

Opening Tuesday evening’s  Facebook Live session – which was viewed in real time by more than 4,500 across the CWU’s social media channels, and by more than double that number since-  CWU president and chair of the union’ telecoms & Financial Service Executive, Karen Rose, warned BT’s senior management team to expect a determined fightback from women who have simply had enough.

Emphasising the importance of the ballot that is currently underway in signalling to management that its actions are simply beyond the pale, Karen explained:  “BT’s been good at winning awards and gaining credit for equality and inclusion, and I’m sure they’d dispute what we are saying about them imposing change that is disproportionally detrimental towards women, but on the ground that is certainly what our women members are experiencing.”

“That is something we cannot allow to go unchallenged – we have to call this out.”

Areas where BT’s actions are impacting particularly acutely on women include:

  • BT Consumer call centres where higher graded work is under concerted attack – leading to a career progression ‘road to nowhere’ – and where unagreed  terms & conditions for new starters have dispensed with Sunday premium and most additional bank holiday payments
  • A concerted assault  on desk-based roles in Openreach
  • BT Group Functions, where women are heavily represented in the redundancies that are currently underway – partly because part-time roles appear to be under particular attack
  • Announcements associated with the  so-called Better Workplace site rationalisation programme throwing into question the future of many offices where female employment ratios are comparatively high
  • Early indications that the looming mass displacement of staff stemming from Better Workplace site closures will also impact especially heavily on women on account of the difficulties faced by those required to travel considerable extra distances to a much smaller number of ‘key location’ if they also have childcare or other caring responsibilities.

Concerns over Better Workplace loomed large amongst the Facebook Live panellists – with two already certain they will be directly impacted.

Assistant secretary of North Anglia Branch Sara Miah explained: “Sadly BT plans to close my workplace in Norwich and that will mean there will be no desk-based sites in Norfolk at all. The nearest site, in Suffolk, is around a three-hour round trip on a good day, making it an impossible option for most women with caring responsibilities. I speak to lots of female members who tell me they’re having sleepless nights and feeling really anxious about their futures at the moment.”

South East Central Branch women’s officer Una McMahon admitted that redundancy had become her “specialist subject” having initially been placed at risk by BT Enterprise late last year. “Luckily I managed to be successful in getting another role within the company – but  sadly, during lockdown, I was asked to attend a conference call where I was told the office will be closing and that there will be nowhere for me to work anywhere near where I live in the future,” she explained.

“Anxiety provokingly, I don’t know when that will be – they just managed to tell me there’s no future, but not when!”

Stressing it was time for BT “sort itself out and be the company it claims to me”, Executive member Tracey Fussey concluded:  “This is absolutely a moment where we need to unite. These are really cold, brutal days we are experiencing in BT and every member, no matter their gender, needs to focus on what this really means – and vote accordingly.”

  • The Counting Women In Facebook Live session can be viewed here