New direct labour wins in Openreach as ‘Civils’ and ‘poling’ recruitment intensifies

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Persistent CWU campaigning for long-outsourced ‘Civils’ and pole erection work to be brought back in-house by Openreach has reaped major new rewards, with the announcement of the creation of at least 1,200 new permanent in-house roles over the next two years.

The move cements an already seismic shift in the company’s approach to resourcing in the ‘Civils’ heavy engineering field that has been gathering pace since September 2015 when management agreed to an initial insourcing trial involving just a handful of gangs in a work area that had hitherto been pretty much totally outsourced.

Following the successful completion in February 2016 of the first major Civils task to have been conducted entirely in-house in many years, the number of directly employed gangs has mushroomed as the case for insourcing, long championed by the union, has been repeatedly and comprehensively proven.

By October 2016, just eight months after the conclusion of the first game-changing project, 40 directly employed two-person gangs were operating across the country – a number that more than doubled to 90 by August 2017. That, however, was just the start of further exponential growth that saw the number of two-person gangs top 680 in December 2020.

Early in the current financial year Openreach agreed a budget to further expand that number to 804 two-person gangs– and recruitment towards that aim is already underway – but the company’s latest decision to press ahead with the potential recruitment of at least a further 600 two-person gangs represents yet another milestone in the Heavy Engineering Organisation’s shift towards a direct labour resourcing model.

Welcoming a move that CWU assistant secretary  Davie Bowman predicts will “provide another rich seam of new recruits to the CWU”, the union’s national officer for Openreach emphasises that the scale and significance of management’s conversion to the benefits of insourcing cannot be overstated.

“There are currently 710 two-person gangs with another  100 in the pipeline,” he stresses.

“The potential of a further 600-plus two-person gangs –  at least 1,200 additional direct labour positions in total over the next two years – will, of course, also lead to promotion opportunities for those within the organisation to move from gang member to gang lead and then supervisor,” adds Davie.

The expansion of in-house Civils capability is accompanied by the transference, in October 2021, of 60 direct labour poling teams into the Heavy Engineering Organisation, combined with the decision to press ahead immediately with recruitment of a further 40 gangs and plans to recruit a further 112 over the next 24 months – bringing the in-house total to 229 gangs.

CWU Openreach National Team chair Fiona Curtis points out that Openreach’s  new focus on in-house poling capability represents another significant turnaround after many years of ever- increasing reliance on third party labour – especially in the North East where poling had been outsourced in its entirety.

“For many years now the CWU has been pressing hard against that decision while simultaneously  arguing the case for the rebuilding of a significant in-house poling capability across the country,” she explains.

“As such, what are seeing now is extremely welcome and a vindication of something we’ve been seeking for a very long time.”

CWU T&FS Executive member Andy Mercer – himself a Civils engineer – agrees that CWU persistence has led to an “incredible turnaround”  in the division’s approach.

“This is fantastic news and represents a real achievement for the union that has stemmed directly from the pressure we have brought to bear,” Andy concludes.