BT Group-wide consultative ballot on industrial action gets underway as CWU patience snaps

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Thursday 19th November 2020

     Eve of ballot projection on BT’s Swansea Tower

Voting is now underway in what is undoubtedly the most important ballot involving the CWU’s entire BT Group membership since the 1987 national strike

At 1pm today electronic voting papers were despatched to almost 50,000 members across BT, Openreach and EE – with the union urging members to deliver an unequivocal message of defiance against an unprecedented company-wide assault on job security and hard won terms & conditions.

In a significant  upping of the ante in the union’s Count Me In campaign against a belligerent management approach that has become endemic across the business, members are being  asked the direct question as to whether the would support a future vote for industrial action.

The ballot now underway provides team member grade employees across BT Group with a crucial opportunity to very publicly reject the company’s ‘race to the bottom’ strategy asking members whether they“are willing to take action and agree with the CWU conducting an official industrial action ballot some point in the future if we cannot reach agreement with the employer.”

Amid the steadfast refusal to date of BT Group’s top brass to budge from a vicious programme of compulsory redundancies, site closures, attacks on pay, terms & conditions – and management’s newfound disregard for longstanding agreements with the union that have underpinned decades of industrial peace – the CWU is hoping that an irrefutable expression of workforce disgust at management’s current trajectory will force the company to the negotiating table.

Addressing  a special ‘eve of ballot’ Facebook Live rally last night, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr lashed out at management’s blinkered refusal to work with, rather than against, the union to address the challenges faced by the entire telecommunications sector in a period of rapid technological change.

“This is not a fight we wanted,” he insisted “We want to approach this in the same way that the CWU has worked with the company to address successive challenges over the last 30 years – sitting down round a table and coming to agreements, as has always been our way.”

Instead, he stressed, management was embarking on brutal compulsory redundancy exercises to address staff surpluses that could self-evidently be resolved using time honoured mechanisms based on voluntarism, redeployment and reskilling – while simultaneously pressing ahead with a site rationalisation strategy with total disregard for the people issues thrown up by mass displacement of staff.

“It’s time to stand up and fight,” Andy insisted. “We’ve tried to sit down and talk but we’ve now had enough. That’s why we need a massive turnout in this ballot and a really big ‘yes’ vote. I’m clear we’re going to get that, and I know that if we stick together we can win this battle.”

CWU national president and chair of the Telecoms and Final Services Executive (TFSE), Karen Rose added: “No CWU member who works for BT should be in any doubt about the importance of this ballot and the Count Me In campaign.

“For very many years we’ve had good industrial relations with BT but that has all changed to the extent that we’re genuinely fearful for the working future of our members in BT.

“This year, for the first time ever, we’ve seen compulsory redundancies, and that has cast a cloud of uncertainty over all your jobs. The so-called Better Workplace programme is dressed up as a move to brighter, shiner buildings…but the reality is that they are asking our members to travel for hours and hours extra each week to new work locations or, worse still, casting them out of the company completely.

“We’re seeing a kind of management that has changed completely….acting without care or compassion for the fantastic key workers that our members are.”


Lost ‘moral compass’

Vice TFSE chair and chair of the union’s Openreach national team, Julia Upton, agreed, accusing the company of having lost its “moral compass”.

“This is the fight of our working lives,” she stressed, “and I want to appeal to anyone who may still be thinking this doesn’t affect them. The fact is this is everyone’s fight, because BT is getting a taste for forced exits…and those forced exits could be coming to a place near you soon.”

That message was forcefully reiterated by CWU general secretary Dave Ward: “We know some BT managers are going round telling people they’ve nothing to worry about, that this is only affecting a few people, but that message is dishonest and could not be further from the truth,” he pointed out.

“Just  look at what the company has been saying to shareholders – namely that they are six months into a five year plan of change and that have set aside over £1 billion to spend on redundancies and cost-cutting. That means thousands and thousands of job losses that they are already planning.

“And when they talk about ‘cost-cutting’ they’re  also referring to those who stay, because they will attack your pay, terms and conditions and use technology to intensify your workload on a day to day basis.”

Dave’s message to everyone receiving e-ballot papers today was unequivocal:  “Once you vote ‘yes’ the tables start to turn. We’ve been in this situation before and, I promise you, they start to listen when the workforce stands up together.

“When you deliver a ‘yes’ vote you deliver collective strength to every single worker in BT; you deliver collective strength to the union and we can start to negotiate properly on your behalf.”


View last night’s Facebook session by clicking below: