Media spotlight on EE after bosses fail to act on multiple CWU warnings over staff bullying 

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Thursday 17th December 2020

A shameful litany of failure by BT bosses to heed repeated CWU warnings over the demeaning and disrespectful treatment of staff at a chain of franchised EE shops has resulted in a richly deserved media backlash.

Both the Morning Star and Mail Online last week reported on the ritual humiliations dished out to employees in franchised EE shops operated by Commture 365 across the West Midlands.

But it was way back in September that bullying behaviour targeted at workers in stores deemed to be ‘underperforming’ first came to the attention of the CWU’s Midlands No.1 branch.

Shocked to hear of staff being forced to bark like dogs, cluck like chickens and squat on Zoom calls in front of managers and co-workers as a ‘punishment’ for not meeting sales expectations, branch secretary Ali Moosa was even more appalled to learn that the practice had begun two months earlier – just after previously furloughed staff returned to work at the end of the first national lockdown.

Acting immediately to help the traumatised members who’d contacted the union lodge grievances, Ali simultaneously escalated the issue to CWU headquarters on September 2 –  stressing  BT Group’s ultimate moral accountability for treatment of staff selling its products and services, including those in franchised out EE shops.

Following a series of urgent but unanswered calls to BT Consumer Employee Relations, the following day (September 3) CWU national officer with responsibility for BT Group personnel issues, Dave Jukes, fired off a hard-hitting email that should, by any normal assessment, have resolved the issue once and for all.

Copied into BT Group’s overall head of employee relations, Dave’s email detailed  the “inappropriate behaviour”  which, he explained,  “involves on a daily basis, employees whose shop does not meet the (area) manager’s requirements being forced to crouch down in the shop and make’ barking’ and ‘chicken’ noises in front of the manager. This is filmed and recorded and watched by all the other EE shop workers in the Midlands.”

He continued: “The employees have said they want to go to the press about the behaviour of the manager. The CWU has advised that we should try and resolve this matter via the CWU and BT Group. However this humiliation of workers needs to stop immediately and the manager dealt with immediately or I will guarantee the CWU will go to the press.”


David Brent on steroids…

The union’s conviction that media interest in real-life offensive management behaviour that wouldn’t look out of place in Ricky Gervais’s The Office has certainly proved prescient – as last week’s press stories, and more believed to be in the pipeline, demonstrate!

Yet, despite multiple CWU warnings that deeply humiliating treatment of staff in an EE franchise would play negatively in the press, impacting the wider brand, it appears to have taken just such an outcome for BT to belatedly take the issue seriously.

More than 24 hours after Dave first flagged up the inappropriate management behaviour to BT, a further instance of the ritual humiliation occurred on September 4,  prompting him to send another urgent email to BT reiterating that the disrespectful and childish ‘forfeits’  “must stop”.

Yet despite a flurry of subsequent telephone discussions between the CWU and BT, another instance quickly followed. On September 8 the union received a categorical assurance from BT Consumer Employee Relations that the franchisee had been instructed there must be no repeats, but several days later it happened again!

And so the pattern continued …with BT seemingly unwilling or unable to bring Commture 365 into line – the only ‘concession’ being that staff were ultimately informed the forfeit was ‘optional’.

Ali Moosa

“That still isn’t right,” insists Ali Moosa, “especially when you consider that employees are understandably concerned that they won’t be looked on in a favourable way if they refuse.

“Certainly up until last week’s media coverage the practice was continuing and we now have a number of Employment Tribunals lodged pending the outcome of a grievance process that is being overseen by ACAS.

“We know that at least one individual – a manager of a  store that had been deemed to have underperformed – has resigned, feeling completely degraded in front of his whole team, and that other impacted individuals have been left feeing traumatised and bullied.

“A number of female employees have expressed anger that they were expected to squat on camera in front of their managers and co-workers, arguing it is a form of sexual harassment. Others, both male and female, who are practicing Muslims, have expressed distress at being asked to bark like dogs on account of the animal’s negative connotations in Islamic culture.

“Ultimately, however, no employee should be expected to put up with management treatment that is humiliating and disgraceful, whatever your gender or faith.”

Dave Jukes agrees, stressing that BT Group now only has itself to blame for negative press coverage that could have been avoided had it acted decisively to nip the outrage in the bud.

CWU acting national officer for EE, Stephen Albon, concludes: “I’m sure our members across EE will be horrified to learn that this degrading treatment of staff in a franchised chain of EE shops was allowed to continue for so long – because that speaks volumes about wider management attitudes at present towards  workers in customer facing roles – be they direct employees or not.”