New Openreach role a “race to the bottom” that will be fought tooth and nail, warns CWU

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Image: peter_fleming / Shutterstock

Thursday 21st January 2021

Openreach bosses have been left in no doubt about the union’s anger over  company plans to trial an unagreed new engineering role that undercuts  existing terms & conditions and casts a huge question mark  over the future job security of the existing workforce.

With recruitment to test out what the company describes as ‘simple Fibre to the Premise (FTTP) provision’ due to commence imminently – despite urgent CWU calls for a management rethink –  the union has this week moved decisively to place on record its total opposition to a  “race to the bottom that is gathering pace.”

In a hard-hitting briefing to branches with members in Openreach that was issued yesterday (Wednesday), CWU assistant secretary Davie Bowman explains:  “At the end of last year, amongst great fanfare, the company announced that it was creating 2,500 new direct labour jobs and a further 2,500 in the ‘supply chain’. However, what the press releases and Boris Johnson photo opportunities did not reveal was that further attacks on terms & conditions and your future job security were part of the package.”

Lashing out at the company’s intention to press ahead with the direct recruitment of 250 new engineers who will deal exclusively with FTTP provision under the ‘trial’ that will commence in April, Davie points out that Openreach’s apparent intention to concentrate such work in the hands of lower-paid direct hires and third party companies places a ticking time-bomb under the existing workforce.

Amid mounting  evidence that Openreach is poised to switch the 1,800 to 2,000 Kelly and Quinn’s contractors who are currently working  on the copper network onto predominantly  fibre provision, Davie stresses:  “The company keeps telling our members that ‘fibre is the future’. If that’s the case, why plan now to permanently  outsource huge levels of fibre work and – for those who will carry out the work in-house – to undermine their pay, terms & conditions?”

Andy Kerr

On Tuesday this week, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr informed the company – which is already subject to a statutory industrial action ballot over attacks to the grading of the CWU’s small but intensely loyal membership of Repayment Project Engineers – that the ‘simple FTTP provision’ trial is another step too far.

Noting that the company’s approach in steamrollering through the trial “does not seek to reach agreement with the CWU on some major departures from current agreements,” Andy continued: “This is wholly unacceptable to the CWU and its members. This trial sets out a direct attack on current pay, terms & conditions, attendances and future job security by the use of third-party labour on a key area of future work – which will undoubtedly divide the workforce and create future tensions.”


Other key reasons for the CWU’s resolute opposition to the FTTP ‘simple provision’ trial  include:

  • A new unagreed pay point of £23,000 for those recruited to take part – substantially less than the current TMNE2 rates of £25,775 or £28,911. No job assessment or mapping process has been followed
  • A 10% bonus based on ‘completions –  signalling a blatant move  towards performance based pay in Openreach, which the CWU has always opposed
  • A contractual 5-day week across Monday to Sunday with  Sunday being classed as a normal working day with no  special premia/ overtime payments
  • No fixed attendance span times and no ‘end of day’ overtime payments
  • The use of telemetrics (trackers and a new driving app which is currently optional) becoming a contractual commitment for those recruited to the new role.

Davie Bowman

“The dangers inherent in all these elements will be immediately obvious to our existing field-based membership, insists CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman.

“That’s even  before you take into account the fact that  we have lots and lots of highly experienced copper skilled people who are desperate to get fibre skilled but are being told they can’t be released for the necessary  training because their copper skills are in such demand at present.

“If you’re that person who’s been looking after the copper network for years and years what happens when, starting in the ‘fibre cities’ very soon,  the company effectively starts switching off the copper network and really incentivises customers to move to fibre?”

Pointing out that Openreach’ s dismissive approach to well-founded workforce concerns is “symptomatic of the reasons the CWU is running the wider ‘Count Me In’ campaign,” Davie concludes: “Even now we’d expect Openreach to get back round the negotiating table to find an agreed way forward. Our reaction will be determined by their response.”