Patch Lead grading and pay snub as tensions rise in Openreach on multiple fronts

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Friday 10th July 2020

The worsening industrial relations climate in Openreach took a new dive yesterday (Thursday) with an inflammatory management decision to unilaterally impose an unagreed grade and pay point for recently employed Patch Leads in both Fibre Network (FND) and Service Delivery (SD).

This is just the latest of a succession of recent grading/ pay point decisions across BT Group that fly in the face of long-established protocols and agreements – and comes just a fortnight after a separate manifestation of the belligerent new management approach sweeping across the company unleashed a full-frontal assault on Openreach’s desk-based workers nationwide. (See story here)

Patch lead roles in both FND and SD began to be rolled out in August last year –representing a significant victory for the CWU, which had long argued that a new team-member grade sitting just below the lowest rung of management would build on the valuable peer-to-peer support provided by senior engineers.

Like the senior engineer role – itself only launched in 2018 following concerted pressure by the union – the institution of the Patch Leads went some way further to address a chronic lack of promotion opportunities across much of Openreach, and for well over a year now the CWU has been engaged in detailed grading discussions as to where exactly the new role should sit.

Davie Bowman

All grading decisions are supposed to be governed by a national agreement which sets out a number of key steps that the union and the company need to work through to reach an agreed position.

This involves the drawing up of an accurate and mutually agreed job description, followed by a formal assessment which determines the grade and , finally, discussions to establish an appropriate pay range/ pay point.

“Unfortunately, once again this week, senior managers in Openreach Ltd have decided to ignore the agreement and process by arbitrarily announcing the grade and pay point for the Patch Lead roles in both FND and SD, so this is categorically not agreed with the CWU,” stresses the union’s national officer for Openreach,  Davie Bowman.

“This is not the first time this has happened with examples such as the Field Based Co-ord, Clerk of Works, various desk roles and of course the Pole Tester role which is vital to the health and safety of our members, third parties who access poles and, of course, the general public.

“For some time now it’s  been increasingly apparent that there’s no honesty, integrity or attention to detail in the company’s current approach to grading. This latest decision proves beyond all doubt  that they’re approaching the process from the perspective of `what are we willing to pay’ and then carrying out the process in reverse to suit that outcome.”

Julia Upton with newly appointed patch leads at Yarnfield, September 2019

Chair of the CWU’s Openreach National Team, Julia Upton – who conducted the  assessment of the Patch Lead role from the union side alongside fellow NT member, Fiona Curtis – explains  the perversity of management’s decision to grade the role at TMNE4 with a pay point of £34,510 and 10% bonus – pointing out that the company had initially been inclined to make it a managerial rather than team member grade.

“The CWU do not agree with that outcome as it in no way reflects the job description nor the responsibilities, skills and value that our members carrying out the role display and carry out on a daily basis,” Julia insists.

“Across Openreach Ltd the role has been hailed as crucial to the future success of the company, the key support role for our field members and invaluable in ensuring the new patch model delivers the business outcomes required. This outcome in no way reflects that view and undermines the integrity and honesty of the whole grading process.”

Fiona Curtis, who in addition to her Openreach NT role is  vice chair of the CWU Young Workers national committee, continues: “For those Patch Leads in Service Delivery then a further insult is the ex-gracia payment intended as a ‘goodwill gesture’. Whilst it reflects the difference between the company’s pre 1.5% pay increase pay point for Patch Leads of £34,000 and the previously advertised £33,702, that does not flow through to either overtime or pension payments! So all the Contractual Overtime (COT) effort put in by all our loyal Patch Lead members is not reflected in the `thank you’; nor does it assist you save and plan for you and your families futures through an additional pension contribution.

Fiona Curtis

“Of course a key element of the process is `internal worth’ and ` internal comparators’ across the BT Group. In that regard even if we accepted the company’s position, which we don’t, how can the outcome of a grading process see a TMNE4 role with a pay point of £34,510 when we have an agreed TMNE3 role with a pay point of £36,540? This is not acceptable to the CWU and will not be acceptable to team members either.”

Davie Bowman points out that the negative implications of a blatantly flawed imposed Patch Lead grading outcome go much wider than the short-changing of nearly 1,000 individuals who’d applied for the roles in good faith assuming they would be appropriately rewarded for the significant additional responsibilities they shoulder.

“If senior managers in the company are willing to act without honesty and integrity in applying a BT Group-wide agreed process, then all team members’ pay points and potential career progression are under threat,” Davie stresses.

“This is not just about one role, this is about every team member role (desk or field) across Openreach Ltd. and the BT Group as a whole.

“The CWU will continue to fight for a fair grading, pay and reward structure that truly reflects the roles that our members carry out and one that is underpinned by honesty, integrity and that attention to detail that members have every right to expect.

Davie concludes: “I’d urge all members to challenge senior managers on all of these grading anomalies and attend the online Branch meetings being held across the country to have their voice heard.

“There needs to be a single message to the company from the CWU and its members on grading and pay in Openreach Ltd – and that is ‘YOU CAN PAY and YOU WILL PAY’! ”