Formal disagreement registered with BT over compulsory redundancy threat

Telecoms & Financial Services

A formal disagreement has been registered with BT over its inflammatory decision to start a process that could lead to compulsory redundancy notices being issued early in the New Year.

The move comes as BT branch reps from across the country prepare to converge on CWU Headquarters in Wimbledon on Thursday (November 14) to discuss the union’s response to the growing threat of compulsory redundancies in BT Enterprise.

Following on from repeated CWU warnings that BT will have a fight on its hands if even one compulsory  redundancy stems from the division’s announcement last month that 367  team member grade jobs are ‘at risk’, the potential for a major industrial relations meltdown intensified last Wednesday when senior management refused to rule out forced exits that the union believes can easily be avoided using the time-honoured voluntary approach to headcount reductions.

At the end of last week letters advising individuals that they are ‘at risk’ of compulsory redundancy –‘inviting’ them to meetings with their manager – began to be issued, with many receiving them yesterday (Monday).

“It’s a fact that management has failed to supply the union with adequate, and in some cases any, information that is required under agreements and the law,” stresses CWU national officer for BT Enterprise, Allan Eldred

“At a meeting last week we asked Enterprise management to suspend the individual consultation process – but they point blank refused. Now the disagreement has been submitted, in theory no further individual consultation letters should be issued and no further interviews should take place until the disagreement is resolved.

“I sincerely hope that BT heeds this protocol, because a unilateral decision to press head would mark a serious escalation of an already dangerous situation.”

The CWU’s dismay at the approach being taken by BT Enterprise to achieve the comparatively small headcount reduction it is seeking is underlined by the fact that for decades the union has worked in full cooperation with management to address much larger staff surplus situations using a combination of voluntary leaver packages, recruitment freezes, redeployment and re-skilling.

Since the late 1980s nearly 100,000 jobs have been cut at BT – halving the company’s headcount  post-privatisation – but to date not one of those deemed surplus within any part of the business where the CWU is recognised for collective bargaining purposes has ever been made compulsorily redundant.

Compared to the 60,000 jobs cut in BT between 1992 and 1995 – including 29,300  in 1992 alone – the CWU is baffled as to why the comparatively tiny surplus that management believes exists in Enterprise today cannot be dealt with in the same enlightened way.

“What management are doing fails to pass any test of necessity – it’s a choice,” continues Allan.

“Their cavalier approach and blatant disregard for what they are putting individuals through is shocking, unacceptable and will be resisted by all means at our disposal.

“If individuals wish to leave the company through voluntary redundancy the union has absolutely no problem with that. Our concern, however, is for those who do not wish to leave who will now be going through a trauma that has been imposed on them through no fault of their own.

“I can only imagine the fear that many will be feeling in the run-up to Christmas when they know there will be job losses in their section, and that anxiety alone is something the CWU needs to eliminate.

“BT’s advertising hoardings are currently telling us that the ‘Future can be taught’. Well, I can tell the company now that, if it persists in this slash and burn philosophy that attacks real people with real families at the worst possible time of year, that future will also be fought.”

Commenting on this Thursday’s emergency branch forum, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr concludes: “The moves BT are making to potentially break our fundamental red line on compulsory redundancies means it’s absolutely essential we discuss how we tackle one of the greatest threats we have faced in BT since the 1987 national strike.

“We want to update branches on the latest position and discuss how we can best deliver on our Conference policy and protect our members’ jobs.”

Motion 21, which was carried unanimously at this Spring’s CWU Annual Conference states that ‘in the event of the company proposing or imposing any compulsory redundancies the T&FS Executive are instructed to immediately embark on a campaign of opposition’ and , if necessary, ballot our members for industrial action.’