‘Enough is enough’ warns CWU as Aberdeen outrage vindicates pan-BT fightback

BT, Telecoms & Financial Services

Image: Liviux / Shutterstock.com

Thursday 16th July 2020

The starkest possible demonstration as to why a concerted campaign of CWU resistance to the new belligerent management approach sweeping across BT is now essential has come in the form of the company’s brutal betrayal of 97 loyal employees in Aberdeen this week.

Extraordinarily, the bombshell that BT has placed its entire office-based Aberdeen workforce at risk of compulsory redundancy from as early as September 30 dropped mid-way through a special CWU online branch forum on Tuesday to discuss the fast deteriorating industrial relations outlook across BT Group.

At a stroke the jaw-dropping development – which is not just devastating to the individuals directly affected but also to an entire city that is already struggling to cope with the decline of  the oil industry – gave unwanted but highly poignant additional launch-day impetus to the union’s Count Me In campaign of resistance.

That evening CWU members across  BT Group received an emergency bulletin from the union explaining the toxic cocktail of reasons why the union has no option but to take a stand against a raft of inter-related  hostile management actions that represent the biggest threat to industrial peace in the company since privatisation.

Those reasons – centred around management’s brutal approach to a Group-wide re-organisation that heralds the spectre of hundreds of site closures and the mass displacement of staff  at a time when longstanding understandings on redeployment and voluntarism in redundancy situations are being challenged as never before – were reinforced in a simultaneous Facebook Live session. Watched live by nearly 5,000 people on Tuesday evening  – the largest real-time viewing figure ever achieved  for a T&FS Facebook live session – that figure has now risen to just over 9,000 complete or near complete views, with the post viewed by nearly 22,000 in total. A recording of the session can be viewed here.

Aberdeen now…but where next?

The pure shock of Tuesday’s  Aberdeen announcement – which fast-tracks the possibility of mass job losses within months on a scale that eclipses the bitterly disputed compulsory redundancy situation that has been unfolding  in BT Enterprise since October –  lies in the fact that it provides an ugly foretaste of what  BT’s ‘Better Workplace’ site rationalisation programme holds in store.

That four-year programme is already causing shockwaves across BT Group as different lines of business (LoBs) have begun announcing  a piecemeal patchwork of uncoordinated plans to consolidate a wide range of operations on small numbers of  key sites. Even the proposals announced to date devoid huge swathes of the country of particular workstreams  – raising the spectre of a  looming redeployment challenge of monumental proportions.

For some time the CWU has been arguing that the apparent absence of a BT-wide masterplan – that could, in theory, have seen individuals displaced by one LoB being offered new roles in other LoBs that were remaining or even expanding in particular localities  – means opportunities for the coordinated redeployment of displaced staff have been needlessly squandered. In Aberdeen, however, the situation is especially grave given the city’s comparative geographical remoteness.

Branding BT’s decision to place 97 individuals at risk of redundancy as “wholly negligent to employees and this region of Scotland on account of the total lack of redeployment opportunities”, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr admits that the future currently looks bleak for all those left stranded by BT’s planned  Aberdeen exodus.

“At the moment the alternatives for redeployment are Dundee for the 76 Consumer employees affected and Glasgow for the 17 Openreach members – both of which are well over the agreed reasonable travelling time,” he explains.

Pointing out that  future options are even more unclear for the small number of Technology, Global and Corporate Functions employees impacted, Andy continues: “Even in starting the national consultation, BT has stated that the last days of service for members who can’t find alternative employment will range between September 30 and November 20.”

                                Andy Kerr

Expressing his fury at the way in which BT has further hindered  potential redeployment options by  simultaneously announcing the closure of seven other sites in Aberdeen that could potentially house staff from the New Telecom House office block that BT claims it has no option but to vacate on account of its landlord exercising a lease break clause, Andy continues: “We can accept that BT has to vacate New Telecom House – but it’s the rest of its actions that simply can’t be tolerated.

“The company could have taken a lease on another suitable office block, or they could have looked at the other buildings they already have in the Aberdeen area. Instead, they’ve taken the cynical decision to close every other exchange building in the area. It’s absolutely obvious that they’ve done that to try to block off our argument that they could move people from New Telecom House to one or a number of those buildings.

“This is the type of thing they’re up to, and it’s an absolute disgrace – especially at a time of Covid-19 when effectively they’re looking to reward key workers who’ve worked hard through the pandemic to maintain the country’s connectivity with P45s!

“It’s worth noting, of course, that the vast majority of those affected have been successfully working from home throughout the pandemic – underscoring the absurdity of the company’s current position that there are no redeployment options at all for anyone who cannot travel to Dundee or Glasgow.

“Today’s leadership of BT should be ashamed of themselves – and I tell them now that the CWU will be standing firm behind those 97 people and that the union will be doing everything in its power to expose the company’s actions far and wide.”

Enough is enough…

The sombre news from Aberdeen certainly stiffened the resolve of all those attending Tuesday’s special branch forum launching the union’s new  ‘Count Me In’ campaign for a change in BT Group’s current approach.

“For the last hour and a half I’ve been taking calls from members who are obviously devastated with the news – people who are facing redundancy in an area where the chance of them getting other jobs is pretty remote,” stressed  Ian Lawrie of Scotland No.1 Branch

“I know I can count on the support of other branches and can assure you now that we’ll be contacting local political parties and councillors to support our members. For us the campaign starts right now – so you can certainly count us in!”

Referring to a separate Better Workplace announcement by Global which has placed the future of its BT Conferencing operations in Shrewsbury in doubt (see story here) – Simon Edwards of Mid Wales, the Marches and North Staffs Branch said: “I think the Aberdeen announcement dispels the myth that we have months to prepare for this. The campaign has to start immediately, because Aberdeen could have been Shrewsbury, Brighton or Oswestry.  Places the length and breadth of the four nations in the UK are at risk.

“Maybe the Aberdeen announcement is the kick start that really gets our campaign going, because it’s an indicator of the way the company is going and an indicator of the way they are treating us as a union.”

The wider implications of the Aberdeen announcement were reinforced by deputy general secretary Andy Kerr in Tuesday’s Facebook Live launch of the Count Me In campaign to the union’s wider membership.

“What’s happened to those 97 individuals today could happen to any one of you,” he warned.

“It might be Aberdeen today, but it could be Shrewsbury tomorrow, Oswestry the next week and somewhere else the week after that.

“That’s why this is a time for uniting….because although you may think you are safe today you might not be safe tomorrow.”