Post-Covid’ cleaning regime changes in BT buildings place 141 ‘at risk’ of redundancyBT July 15 2022
A major shake-up of cleaning arrangements at BT sites across the country is being robustly challenged by the union amid concerns that longer-serving full-time housekeepers who worked flat out through the pandemic to keep fellow workers safe are disproportionately likely to be negatively impacted.
First briefed to the CWU by ISS last month, the planned move to a ‘hygiene focussed’ approach involves a partial return of the normal cleaning regimes which existed pre-Covid and refocuses housekeeping activities on times of the day when buildings are largely unoccupied.
Stemming from the latest advice from the UK Health Security Agency (formerly Public Health England), so-called ‘Hygiene Focussed Cleaning’ reduces the frequency of the additional measures implemented during the pandemic, incorporating the cleansing of ‘high frequency touch points’ into ‘core cleaning’.
BT says the new arrangements are in line with changes in Government and Health and Safety guidance and the narrative around ‘living with COVID’, and that they incorporate important hygiene lessons that were learned during the pandemic.
But that is cold comfort for many of those impacted – because, while the number of housekeepers will actually increase under the new model, these will typically be part-time or ‘reduced hours’ roles. As such, across the BT Estate scores of the predominantly full-time housekeepers who transferred over from BT Facilities Services in 2019 at the time of the disputed outsourcing are already caught up in a deeply unsettling redundancy consultation exercise.
Initially 82 cleaners based at 30 sites across the UK were placed at risk, but that number has now risen to 133 as a result of ISS extending its ‘Hygiene Focussed Cleaning’ proposals to a further 13 sites.
Worst affected in numerical terms is BT’s Adastral Park campus, where all of the current 26 full-time housekeepers have been placed ‘at risk’ of redundancy – followed by EE’s Darlington campus where the entire current complement of 9 full-time housekeepers are similarly ‘at risk’.
Across ISS housekeepers are being offered one-off reduced hours compensation payments if they take up part-time or reduced hour roles – but it remains to be seen how many will ultimately be able to switch to shorter hours for financial reasons.
Meanwhile, at BT’s shiny new ‘One Braham’ HQ in London’s Aldgate, a very similar ‘Core Cleaning Service Review’ has been initiated by Peartree Cleaning Services, which won the contract (with existing staff transferring from ISS) when BT Centre closed just seven months ago.
At One Braham the current team of two supervisor housekeepers and 11 housekeepers (all working 40 hour weeks) will be reduced to just five ‘cleaning operatives’ working 35 hours per week – though at a slightly enhanced hourly rate.
The proposal puts all cleaners at One Braham at risk of redundancy, with VR being offered to all in scope in the first instance. If insufficient volunteers come forward, Peartree is currently planning to operate a ‘last in first out’ selection criteria instead of a competency-based assessment – despite concerns raised by the CWU over potential indirect discrimination.
“We recognise that this is a very worrying time for members who have been placed in scope for redundancy, and will be doing everything we possibly can to mitigate against compulsory job losses,” stresses CWU national officer Tracey Fussey.
“Members are strongly advised to seek support from their local CWU representative throughout the consultation process, and should, indeed, already be in the process of being contacted directly by their branch.
“We strongly encourage people to provide counter-proposals where they believe that workable alternatives to management’s proposals exist, or where they believe the reduced cleaning hours will not provide the level of service that is required.
“Members can rest assured we’re keeping a very close watch on the situation and are actively challenging the rationale for the changes at every opportunity – especially at a time when Covid levels are once again on the up.”
Tracey concludes: “Apart from being determined to do the very best we can for our members in ISS and Peartree, for many years now we’ve had real concerns about the state of the BT Estate because of the negative impact that insufficient cleaning and maintenance has on our members working in BT.
“Despite the reassurances given by BT and the third-party suppliers concerned, at the moment it’s impossible to say whether the changes being implemented will have detrimental effects on the quality of the working environment within BT buildings – but I can say with absolute confidence that, if it does, CWU branches will make sure we are the first to know!”