Dismay at Telefonica move on sick pay

The CWU has expressed its outright dismay at Telefonica’s decision to impose a vicious attack on sick pay for new starters without providing the opportunity for negotiation on proposals the CWU believes are more worthy of a ‘bargain basement’ employer than a leading telecommunications company.

Telefonica dropped the bombshell that it intended to slash its current industry leading sick pay entitlements to the statutory minimum for new starters almost as an aside in a meeting on December 5 last year – but subsequently agreed to delay its initial proposed implementation date of January 1 pending discussions with the CWU after the union highlighted serious concerns on multiple fronts.

As such, the CWU refrained from commenting publicly at the time, hoping that the time-honoured ‘partnership approach’ to industrial relations would allow the opportunity for a genuine dialogue in accordance with the spirit of the union’s longstanding recognition agreement with the company.

Last month, however, the union was informed, completely out of the blue, that no further discussions would take place and the Board had already rubber-stamped a move to statutory sick pay for new starters, commencing on March 1.

That prompted last-ditch CWU pleas for a company rethink amid serious concerns that the move not only presents health risks to both employees and customers, but that it also signals a dramatic departure from long-established industrial relations protocols.

The union is still awaiting a written response – but has been told verbally that the company’s decision is final and will not be changed.

Under the imposed changes, anyone taken on by the company from yesterday  (March 1) will only be entitled to statutory sick pay totalling £89.35 per week if they fall ill in their first six months of employment. (The company insists this will apply to ANY new starters, up to and including Board members and the CEO – though the union has pointed out that there is a vast difference in the working arrangements between CWU members and management grades!)

While the CWU had already privately indicated that it was prepared to accept earlier company proposals to halve current sick pay entitlements for new starters to three months full pay and three months half pay thereafter, the union believes the imposition of statutory sick pay in the first six months is a step too far that has potentially serious unintended consequences.

Assistant secretary Sally Bridge explains: “Given high staff churn levels in the O2 Stores, this move will disproportionately affect some of Telefonica UK’s lowest paid employees who deal face to face with customers on a daily basis. There is therefore a serious danger that, faced with a dramatic loss of income at times of illness, these predominantly young employees – who often struggle to make ends meet as it is – will struggle in to work even when they are seriously unwell, potentially placing customers at risk of infection.

“In the wake of the recent flu epidemic, does Telefonica really believe that an action which is likely to effectively force unwell employees to continue serving the public is good for its brand image?

“Quite apart from the questionable morality of what Telefonica is doing, the CWU believes the move to statutory sick pay is not in the interests of Telefonica itself, and not the direction they should be taking as an employer.”

“All it does is put Telefonica on a par with companies that do not have a good reputation to work for, or to be employed by.”


Breach of trust

While existing employees are not affected by the imposed changes to sick pay arrangements, the CWU is adamant that Telefonica’s claim that it doesn’t need to consult with the union on changes that will only affect future employees is a serious breach of the spirit of the bipartite recognition agreement.

Pointing out that the CWU’s objection to Telefonica’s imposition of the sick pay change is “not just based on what they are doing but also the way they are doing it,” assistant secretary Sally Bridge explains: “Telefonica’s approach in this instance simply isn’t honourable. It’s disrespectful and is very much contrary to what we’ve come to expect given the amount of change that we have worked together on over recent years.”

In the union’s final escalation letter to Telefonica HR Director Ann Pickering, Sally concluded: “Despite the CWU wanting to engage in discussion in an attempt to find a compromise on this matter we have now been faced with a fait accompli.

“This is indeed a worrying development and no in character with the company I know and worked with for many years.

“I am therefore escalating this matter to you, as it is our view that, as a major stakeholder and partner, the CWU has a vested interest in the contractual terms and conditions of the general population grades, and this should cover the contractual terms of both existing and new employees.

“I would therefore hope that you can delay any implementation until the CWU has had an opportunity to be provided with the full facts and to explore whether there is an alternative to the current proposal.”

Telefonica, however, insists the issue is now a closed book.