Don’t trigger a needless industrial relations meltdown, CWU warns BT


The CWU has issued the starkest possible warning to BT that it will be placing more than 30 years of industrial harmony in jeopardy if today’s announcement of hundreds of job losses in BT Enterprise ends with even a single compulsory redundancy.

Responding to today’s bombshell that the division is seeking a substantial headcount reduction taking place between April and August, the CWU has reminded the company that any move to cross the union’s fundamental red line on compulsory redundancies will trigger the most serious industrial relations crisis within BT since the 1987 national strike.

That policy was most recently reaffirmed at this year’s CWU Annual Conference where delegates gave unanimous backing to a Telecoms & Financial Services Executive motion committing the union to ballot for industrial action, if required, to prevent even one compulsory redundancy.

Under BT Enterprise’s downsizing proposal, some CWU represented grade employees will be placed at risk at the end of October, in BT’s Enterprise Service unit  on account of the scale of the division’s ‘resourcing challenge’ – a term that management has confirmed refers to employment numbers.

The CWU has been told that all areas of team member staffing are affected in Enterprise Service, the largest unit in the recently renamed division of BT Group that services business customers. As such, the union understands that the job losses being sought this year are throughout  Enterprise’s Service organisation, including Field Services, Customer Service and Managed Service units.  This includes the frontline contact and technical centres.

Some are EE employees in the North East who are also understood to be impacted.

Intensifying the CWU’s fury, BT has taken the unusual step of accompanying the job loss announcement with the decision to formally notify the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) by submitting an HR1 document which gives the Secretary of State advance notice of collective redundancies.

CWU national officer for BT Enterprise Allan Eldred explains: “We believe this is an inflammatory and unnecessary act because it strongly implies the company’s mindset is moving in the direction of compulsory redundancies – something we have always worked hard with BT to avoid with a 100 per cent success record to date.”

“The fact is that the CWU has always worked constructively with management to help secure their desired headcount reductions through a range of methods, underpinned by principle of voluntarism,” insists Allan. “Our track record of cooperation is such that, since 1987, the number of people employed by BT has halved without a single day of industrial action stemming from the job losses – which begs the question as to what on earth has changed now?”

With thousands of CWU members now reeling from an announcement that questions fundamental assumptions over job security across BT Group, the CWU has moved swiftly to impress on BT Group’s top brass that the union’s expectation that the company will work within existing agreements to address staff surplus in the time-honoured way is non-negotiable.

This includes the terms of a legally binding redundancy agreement contained within the recent Pensions Agreement that stipulates that, before formalising any proposals that include potential redundancy, BT and the CWU will jointly aim to resolve any identified surplus through a combination of:

  • Redeployment, with associated retraining and reskilling
  • In-sourcing of  previously off-shored or contracted out work
  • Natural wastage hastened by recruitment slowdowns or freezes
  • Contractor and agency displacement
  • Rebalancing workloads and the control of overtime
  • The offering of enhanced voluntary leaver packages.

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr concludes: “The CWU has never come up wanting when it comes to working positively with BT to help the company address the challenges it faces. Management now has to decide whether it wants to continue to treat its employees’ elected representatives as partners – and for us to work through this issue together in the way we have successfully done on multiple occasions previously – or whether it wants to bring on a wholly unnecessary fight.

“That decision will fundamentally affect the tenor or industrial relations going forward, and I hope sense will prevail – but for the sake of absolute clarity, the CWU will not be budging its red line on the issue of compulsory redundancies one iota.

“I don’t care if it is one person, a hundred or a thousand. If just one person is threatened with compulsory redundancy we will start the campaign for industrial action immediately.”