Needless compulsory redundancy threat triggers emergency branch forum

Telecoms & Financial Services

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

Following on from blunt 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 hundreds of  team member grade jobs are ‘at risk’, the potential for a major industrial relations meltdown intensified on Wednesday this week 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.

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. Instead, for the last three decades,  the CWU has worked in full co-operation with management to address successive staff surplus situations using a combination of voluntary leaver packages, recruitment freezes, redeployment and re-skilling to ensure that no-one who didn’t want to leave BT was forced out the door.

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.

Yet, despite the union’s pledge to work constructively with the division to help it secure its desired headcount reduction voluntarily – using the tried-and-tested mechanisms contained in long-standing bi-lateral agreements – this coming Monday (November 11) 367 CWU-represented grade employees will receive letters formally placing them at risk of compulsory redundancy.

Updating CWU Executive members on fast-moving developments this Wednesday, assistant secretary Allan Eldred revealed that, despite the demonstrably successful adoption of a voluntary approach in previous staff surplus situations, it has now been made clear to the union that Enterprise senior management are absolutely intent on using a hitherto untried redundancy process that forms part of the  recent pensions agreement for legal reasons.

“For apparently ideological reasons I cannot even start to fathom, it appears this approach is being imposed on all of the Enterprise Service directors who are being required to make headcount reductions – even preventing one from using tried and tested processes to address a surplus of just two people,” Allan explains.

“While it’s certainly the case that, amongst those being placed at formal risk of compulsory redundancy on Monday, there will be those who want to go – and others for whom redeployment opportunities will certainly exist – what about the 40-year-old with three kids and a big mortgage who’s located in an isolated building and who can’t immediately see any potential openings for redeployment? That’s the person we’ll be defending to the hilt.

“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.”

Stressing the vital importance of all branches with members in BT attending next 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 branches and BT committees can help us ensure we deliver on our Conference policy and protect our members’ jobs.”

Motion 21, which was carried unanimously at this Spring’s CWU Annual Conference in Bournemouth following impassioned contributions from no fewer than 17 branches, 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.’