Industrial action ballot in Openreach as repayment planners’ patience finally snaps

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Friday 8th January 2021

Formal notice has been served to Openreach that a statutory industrial action ballot will commence next week as a result of management’s steadfast refusal to engage with the CWU over the deep-seated concerns of Repayment Project Engineers (RPEs) about imposed changes to the grading of their role.

Furious RPEs took the highly  unusual step in September of asking the union to register their readiness  to take strike action against the belligerent new  management approach they were experiencing, voting ‘Yes’ by nine-to-one in a 92% consultative ballot turnout .

At the time it was hoped that would force Openreach to reconsider. Such expectations, however, have proved futile – with complete management intransigence setting the scene for the forthcoming statutory industrial action ballot.

Yesterday (Thursday), Openreach was served notice that voting papers will be issued to the union’s entire RPE membership on or about January 14, with the result to be declared on or about Thursday February 4. At that point, assuming a ‘Yes’ vote and the company’s continued refusal to change tack, notice will be served for industrial action to commence on or about Thursday February 18.

Addressing a special online RPE members’ meeting last night CWU national officer for Openreach Davie Bowman, stressed:  “This is a monumental moment for all of us, because we’ve tried absolutely every avenue open to us and the company has chosen not to respond in a way that meets the objectives that you have set out.”

In a special video targeted at the wider BT Group membership that was simultaneously disseminated on social media, Davie added: “This is an unusual step for us to have to take, which I hope is a clear signal of the seriousness with which we take this issue and that this is now the only way we believe this can be resolved.”

Urging RPE members to replicate the unequivocal message they delivered in September’s consultative ballot, Openreach national team chair Julia Upton insisted that would maximise the chances of the company belatedly “seeing sense and sitting down with us to resolve this dispute.”

But she concluded: “We need to be absolutely prepared that, if that doesn’t happen, we follow things thorough right to the end.”