Multiple threats laid bare to Consumer members as consultative ballot on industrial action progresses

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Friday 27th November 2020

Management accusations of CWU ‘scaremongering’ over unprecedented threats to job security and terms & conditions in BT Consumer have been compressively trounced in an electric Facebook Live session in which the seriousness of the situation was set out with unflinching candour.

With voting underway in a BT Group-wide consultative ballot on industrial action (see story here), on Wednesday evening the particular and distinct challenges facing members in Consumer were not just laid bare but set in the context of an aggressive new management approach that has become endemic across the business.

“Let’s be clear, this is one of the most crucial and dangerous points in all of our careers,” began acting national officer for Consumer, Stephen Albon. “Whether you are new to the company or a longstanding employee we are under attack like never before.

“I want to make it very clear that the changes being made in Consumer impact on everyone – if not now they will in the future. That’s why we need to send a really strong message in this ballot that we will not accept these attacks – and that’s why every single member needs to  vote ‘yes’.”

Turning to the existential threat posed to members’ job security under BT’s five-year  so-called Better Workplace site rationalisation programme, Stephen stressed that Consumer’s unique position as the only major BT  line of business not to have made any announcements regarding its overall site strategy should not be construed  a positive sign.

“We believe there’s a reason why Consumer hasn’t announced its site strategy,” he warned,  “and that’s because, unlike the other lines of business where the numbers in particular sites are generally smaller, we have big battalions in a lot of sites.

Amid mounting CWU suspicions that Consumer’s  steadfast refusal to come clean about its Better Workplace intentions comes down to management concerns that the shock and anger generated will adversely impact on customer service,  Stephen continued: “What they’re  doing is exactly what happened in Aberdeen where they bounced us at the last minute with a short notice closure , making people in Aberdeen compulsorily  redundant.

“In the absence of clear statements to the contrary, every site is at threat of closure  – and even though some sites have had new buildings or refurbishment announced, please don’t be complacent and assume you’re safe –  because we don’t yet know what work will be placed into those sites.”

Stephen pointed out that the potential for mass displacement of staff at any Consumer site that is ultimately earmarked for closure is especially worrying at a time when, across BT Group, a new found enthusiasm is being shown for compulsory redundancies – with a new senior management team comprehensively rejecting  time-honoured  mechanisms for dealing with staff surpluses  based on voluntarism and redeployment.

“Add to that the fact they’ve served notice on severance terms we only agreed two years ago, and that’s got to send out a really clear message to our members of the company’s future direction –potentially one of mass redundancies on the cheap,” Stephen continued.

“All members need to be afraid of compulsory redundancies, because once companies  get a taste for them they become the culture. If we don’t  win this fight that will be the future.”

Turning to the concerted attack on higher graded work in BT Consumer call centres – and  management’s inflammatory decision to  unilaterally introduce unagreed lower terms and conditions for new starters – for whom Sunday premiums and most additional bank holiday payments have been stripped away, – Stephen lambasted an unholy “race to the bottom” that poses existential threats to ALL employees.



Watched  live, in real time, by thousands of last night – a figured that had increased to well over 7,000 on the Facebook platform alone by this afternoon, one of the most electric moments of the webinar (see below) came when a member asked a question relating to the claims being made by some managers that the union is ‘scaremongering’.

“We can’t apologise for telling the truth,” was the unequivocal response of  the Chair of the union’s Consumer National Team, Dave Tee. “The fact is we’ve been trying to negotiate with the company on a whole range of issues for months and months and months and  we’re getting nowhere.

“We want BT to come to the table, talk to us properly now and negotiate , but they won’t, and that’s the truth of what’s going on. If they say we’re scaremongering by saying sites are at risk why don’t they say that sites aren’t closing ?

“Consumer is the one  BT line of business that won’t  declare what its future sites are…we’ve challenged them to give us the answer time and time again and they won’t. It should be very simple for any company that has a plan for the next few years to be able to say what its site strategy is, and you have to ask why Consumer isn’t being open, honest and transparent.”

Concluding the Facebook Live session by urging  everyone to cast their vote in the consultative ballot, fellow executive and Consumer national team  member Tracy Buckley summed up the seriousness of the situation facing members.

“We’ve  gone 36 years in this company dealing with surpluses voluntarily –  successfully, redeploying and retraining employees and successfully protecting their pay and pension if they’ve had to move into a lower graded job. All that has been done successfully for the 36 years since privatisation –  but now this company has changed the way it wants to treat its employees.

“If we don’t stop them now, how are they going to be treating you in five years or even just 12 months time?”

  • BT Consumer Facebook Live is available to view here