CWU shock and disgust at high-handed Openreach missive on annual leave

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

The CWU has expressed its anger and dismay at Openreach’s astonishing decision to announce unagreed changes to its approach to annual leave in a heavy handed communiqué to staff who are working flat out to keep the country’s vital communication infrastructure up and running.

Not only was the missive, received today by team members conducting ‘key worker’ roles  across the company, condescending and  authoritarian in its tone, but no attempt had been made to consult with the union on the practicality and reasonableness of new demands as to how and when annual leave should be taken at a time of coronavirus.

The move prompted the CWU to issue an urgent bulletin to all members in Openreach this morning – pointing out that the union has already posed, but not received answers to, two extremely pertinent questions thrown up by the business’s new hard-line stance.

  • Firstly, given the new stipulation that any carried over leave – including that stemming from planned holidays that became impossible to take because of lockdown restrictions – has to have been taken by June, what sanctions will be taken against those who find it impossible to make alternative arrangements or find A/L slots that work for them in that very tight timeframe?
  • Second, given a long history of fierce completion for scarce annual leave slots over the school summer holiday period, what sanctions will be taken against anyone who cannot take 50% of their annual leave by September?

CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman explains: “The fact that these two issues were not covered in the company’s Loop article clearly displays the fact that they’re hoping no-one asks!”

Writing in this morning’s bulletin to members Davie continues: “A blanket response that states ‘we will deal with any escalations or individual cases’ will not wash, as that puts all the pressure on you and your families once again. The CWU, and you as employees, would expect the company to consult with the CWU and ensure that any changes to processes or policies seek to avoid the need for that to happen.

“The company continually tells you what an exceptional job you are doing – and that the roles you carry out are ‘key’ – so why would the same company not work with the CWU and yourselves to look at annual leave and how that is managed?”

Pointing out that the new hard-line approach being adopted by Openreach is out of kilter with the approach to annual leave currently being operated by the rest of BT Group, Davie lamented the style as well as the substance of an instruction to staff that that has triggered widespread comment from members across the company.

“Of course it’s important for people  to take annual leave, and for you to get the rest you deserve in these unprecedented times,” he stresses. “However, it is unacceptable for the company not to treat you as adults and for it to act in this arbitrary manner – even using bold type to hammer home the point.”

The same observation has been made by the union’s Openreach SPOCs (single points of contact), with some reporting a surge of enquiries from dismayed local members.

Viv Heys, the union’s North East Regional Co-ordinator for Openreach said: “Members are responding to this announcement on annual leave with both surprise and disappointment at the tone of the communiqué.  The message from members is  loud and clear –  with the most common observation being: “When Openreach called back-to-back Contractual Overtime and we responded by working over and above to reduce the repair workstacks, where was the concern for our rest, health & well being then’?”

CWU Openreach Regional Co-Ordinator for Wales and the Marches, Graham Colk, adds: “Members tell me they are very proud of their role as key workers and delivering connectivity to many on the NHS front line and they are astounded that Openreach feel it necessary to be so authoritarian on annual leave.

“ As one member very pertinently put it:  ‘Planning leave is really difficult at the moment with so much uncertainty and worry about whether your loved ones contract the virus and this just seems like Openreach waving a big stick at the engineers without any concern for their welfare’.”

And CWU Openreach SPOC for London, Jeffrey Till, concludes: “I believe it’s a knee-jerk reaction by Openreach management to the lockdown situation. To expect someone to take that amount of leave in such a short space of time is unreasonable. There is no reason why they couldn’t have staggered the carry-over of annual leave over the next couple of years, therefore avoiding the situation altogether.”