Grassroots anger at BT Enterprise erupts into protest in SevenoaksBT March 17 2020
As tensions continue to rise at BT Enterprise over the division’s apparent determination to become the first part of BT to make compulsory redundancies amongst team member grades, anger amongst one of the largest groups of members to be placed ‘at risk’ erupted into a public show of defiance last Thursday.
A week to the day after South East Central branch lodged a request with CWU headquarters to ballot relevant members for industrial action, many of those at the sharp end of the CR threat – which has already been confirmed for one of their colleagues – took part in a lunchtime protest outside their Sevenoaks workplace.
The Kent town’s BT Workstyle building houses one of the biggest concentrations of workers whose future employment is threatened by Enterprise’s national downsizing plans anywhere in the country. Not only is Enterprise withdrawing from Sevenoaks in its entirety, but local redeployment opportunities to other BT divisions are unusually limited.
Of the dozens of local CWU members who were originally placed ‘at risk’ – in addition to their Brighton homeworker colleague who has already been told her last day of service will be May 31 – just under half face the very real possibility of being compulsorily redundant by the end of August.
While all those concerned are desperately hoping to avoid that outcome, and actively seeking redeployment options, confidence over the seriousness of the company’s stated aim to them find alternative roles within the business has been steadily eroded by personal knockbacks and a growing sense that their alleged ‘priority status’ in the job search process counts for very little indeed.
The sense of gloom and foreboding has been heightened by Enterprises’ shock decision to effectively fast-track a different group of compulsory redundancies at Ambassador House in London (see New outrage enflames BT Enterprise compulsory redundancy drama story here and worrying developments elsewhere in BT – including in BT Technology where a massive site rationalisation programme has just been announced which could affect another group of workers at Sevenoaks. See BT Technology site strategy ‘unacceptable’, warns CWU story here
South East Central Branch chair Dave Kauffman said: “Concerns are certainly growing about the future of the Sevenoaks building – but there’s also a sense of fear and unease growing amongst team members more generally.
“We have an Openreach FND team being targeted at Withdean in Brighton. At the moment they’re going through a voluntary redundancy scheme, but they’ve been told that if anyone goes on VR their jobs will be reissued in Glasgow at £10,000 a year less. (See Openreach challenged on FND National Infrastructure bombshell story here.
“Mercifully there’s no compulsory redundancies there yet, but people are worried about the way things are going – because BT and Openreach simply aren’t being open and honest about what their plans for the future are.
“Someone in BT and Openreach must have an overarching plan as to where they are going and they need to sit down with the union and be open and honest about things – and then hopefully we can agree a way forward that isn’t going to hurt people.”
Fellow branch officer Steve Taylor agrees: “We’re not just concerned about what’s happening in Enterprise,” he stresses. “Just today we’ve heard that Technology could be leaving the building, and things are also clearly happening in Consumer.
“All this makes us worry about the future viability of the building, but Sevenoaks isn’t the only place affected by the threat of compulsory redundancies and various site strategies at present. Who’s next?”
Assistant secretary Allan Eldred concludes: “On top of all this. we now have the bizarre situation where those threatened with compulsory redundancy in Sevenoaks have been issued with new laptops and told to set up the laptop at home using a link because at some point they may be instructed to work from home because of coronavirus
“Some of them remain at risk because they can’t travel to the site of an alternative role and management won’t allow them to be homeworkers in that role. As you will appreciate, the irony is not lost on them.
“Last week’s protest at Sevenoaks is a clear indicator of just how furious people are feeling at the way they are being treated. Across Enterprise I’m detecting a growing sense of anger and determination to resist management’s actions which appear to be erecting barriers to alternative jobs for those at risk – and the company ignores that at its peril.”
Powerful voices of protest
Paul Hendrick, Enterprise Fibre Validation team, Sevenoaks:
“With the company going down the line of making people compulsorily redundant for the first time in its history we need to make people aware of what’s happening. We might not just be an isolated few, and that’s why we need as much support as possible across from union members across the company.”
Chas Nicholls, Enterprise employee , Sevenoaks:
“We’re really upset with the company’s policy of taking everything from the south and moving it up north. I don’t understand this strategy – putting all their eggs in one basket seems silly to me – but apart from that those of us who are at risk of redundancy all have mortgages to pay and families to feed, same as everyone else. It all seems very unfair.”
Jon Nicholson, Enterprise employee, Sevenoaks:
“I’m hoping that being out here today will help garner support for those of us who are facing compulsory redundancy on August 31. We’ve also heard that colleagues in Ambassador house will be leaving on March 31, so compulsory redundancy is a very real prospect now.”
Kevin Abbott, Enterprise SIP order manager
I’m out here because I’m under the threat of compulsory redundancy at end of August. I’ve got a trial doing the same job I do here but in Brentwood starting on Monday, but it isn’t ideal travel-wise and I’m worried about how it will affect my role as a carer – as it’s about an hour each way on a good day. Some days can be rubbish, however, and the time I get home is important because of my responsibilities. I would happily work from home but they don’t want that.”
Claire Hood, Enterprise employee, Sevenoaks:
“We’ve come outside today to ask for a bit of support because we’ve been threatened with compulsory redundancy – and once it happens to us it can happen to anyone in BT. Now’s the time for solidarity and we all need to stick together and support each other.
Joe Brennan, Enterprise employee, Sevenoaks:
“BT simply haven’t been reasonable. Even though they claim they’ll try to find us other jobs they seem to be doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ve seen jobs of my grade, that I used to do, given to other people who weren’t of my grade and had never done the job – even though I’m meant to be a ‘priority candidate’. It’s almost as if BT seems to be out to be cruel to people. For instance, because of coronavirus they are telling us we should be ready to work from home – yet one of the ladies in our branch has been told that she’s going to be made redundant, even though she works from home, because she is ‘pinned’ to Sevenoaks. She doesn’t actually work from this building at all, and if she’d been pinned to anywhere that Enterprise wasn’t pulling out of she wouldn’t be affected. How can that be reasonable?”
Brian Culverwell, Enterprise customer contact worker, Sevenoaks:
“We’re protesting against compulsory redundancies because this would leave me and others without a job. How can they make us compulsorily redundant when my role is still there and not let us work from home? We’re appealing to the rest of the union to get behind us and sent out a message of ‘No Compulsory Redundancies’.”
Saj Huq, Enterprise partner channel team, Sevenoaks:
“I’ll be out of a job if this happens. In my team, we’ve been told August 31 will be our last day and other teams have been told June. We’re all extremely worried here. We’re being told to look for jobs but output from other teams is really poor, and there are confusing and mixed messages from HR. If they do this to us, they’ll do it to others – there’ll be no stopping them – so our message to all CWU members and branches is please support us.”