Crunch time looming for Openreach as RPE industrial action ballot enters its final week

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT


Friday 29th January 2021

With just one week left to run of the first statutory industrial action ballot in BT Group in more than a decade, the CWU is urging any Repayment Project Engineers (RPEs) who’ve not yet cast their vote to do so without delay.

The crucial poll that is underway – triggered by Openreach management’s steadfast refusal to address the legitimate concerns of RPEs over imposed changes to the grading of their role -commenced exactly a fortnight ago, with the despatch of ballot papers taking place on Thursday January 14.

Unusually, the normal two week voting period was extended to three on the advice of the ballot’s independent scrutineers on account of  possible delays in the postal service stemming from the worsening  Covid-19 pandemic.

In the event, however, feedback from members suggests that the despatch of voting papers has gone smoothly, with many confirming via branches and the union’s network of Openreach regional coordinators that they cast their vote by return.

“The feedback we’ve been getting from members, branches and the regional coordinators has been absolutely fantastic,” stresses CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman.

Davie Bowman

“Quite clearly the drive and the will to deliver a massive ‘yes’ vote in a massive turnout are there for all to see.

“We started on this journey together and we’re going to finish it together – and, from all the feedback that we’ve had, we’re going to finish it in a positive way!”

But Davie still insists it’s vital that anyone who’s not yet cast their vote does so immediately so that next Thursday’s ballot result delivers the clearest possible message to Openreach that it simply cannot continue to ignore the rock-solid belief of RPEs that it’s vital the role remains a team member grade, with all the technical and engineering skills associated with it.

“The company has made a mistake, and it’s really disappointing that they don’t want to reflect and act based on your genuine fear and concerns for the future,” Davie continues.

“This is about that final push to get an overwhelming ‘yes’ vote in an industrial  action ballot to get the company back to the negotiating table.”

That point was poignantly reiterated by the chair of the union’s Openreach National Team, Julia Upton in a special video message to RPE members last night.

“We all recognise that this is a pivotal moment,” she began. “This is your dispute, your objective and your desire to convince the company that they’ve this wrong and that they need to listen to your concerns.

“You have the whole of the CWU rooting for you. We’re so proud of your integrity, your loyalty and your resolve to fight for what you believe in. Please don’t forget to vote – and please don’t forget there’s strength in unity. We’re behind you all the way!”

War or peace? Decision time looms for management…

It is significant that the current industrial action ballot involving the CWU’s 170-strong RPE membership commenced exactly a month after 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 willingness to take industrial action in support of the union’s Count Me In campaign objectives.

Although the statutory industrial action ballot now underway in Openreach involves less than 1% of those who participated in last month’s BT Group-wide consultative poll, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr made no bones about the wider significance of the Openreach RPE ballot in a special Facebook Live ‘Solidarity Session’ as voting papers were despatched.

“This is a wake-up call for the whole of BT,” he stressed.

Julia Upton in a special video message to RPE members last night: