‘Push us at your peril,’ repayment planners warn Openreach in nine-to-one consultative ballot on strike action

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Friday September 11th 2020

Furious repayment planners have delivered the starkest possible warning to Openreach that, if necessary, they are prepared to take strike action against unagreed changes to their grading and job description.

In a remarkable show of defiance against a belligerent new management approach that is manifesting itself across different parts of BT, the small but fiercely loyal group of CWU members – who conduct a hugely complex and highly lucrative role for Openreach – had taken the unusual step of asking the union to register their willingness to take industrial action over the changes ahead of a formal industrial action ballot.

Under the consultative ballot that commenced on September 2 in response to the demands of repayment engineers to express their fury and solidarity in a tangible and irrefutable way, just one question was asked. Namely: ‘In the event that the union obtains a ‘yes’ vote in a future ballot for industrial action – and in to achieve our aims regarding the grade and functions of the Repayment Project Engineer – are you willing to take part in official industrial action consisting of a strike?’

That ballot closed at noon today – and result is unequivocal, with members voting ‘yes’ by nine-to-one in a 92% turnout.

CWU national officer for Openreach Davie Bowman observers: “Our repayment planner members have spoken and they couldn’t have delivered a clearer message to Openreach that the company’s total disregard for their clearly expressed concerns is absolutely unacceptable.

“It’s important to note that the members themselves demanded this consultative ballot –with the union’s national team making no recommendation that might have influenced the result. The overwhelming turnout and clarity of the vote is a clear message to the company to change tack and I sincerely hope that message is being received loud and clear this afternoon in Openreach’s Judd Street headquarters.”

                        Davie Bowman

Stark warning to management…

For nearly two months the CWU’s repayment planner members have been pleading, both individually and collectively, for management to reconsider an  autocratic and unilateral company announcement on July 15 that their role was being ‘retired’ on September 1, and that a new job description taking the role out of the NewGRID grading structure would then be imposed.

Originally they were given just 28 days to accept a paper ‘promotion’ to a Level E management role which reduces their annual leave and sick pay entitlements, adds a minimum of an hour and a half to their working week and debars then from membership of the CWU-negotiated Hybrid Pension Scheme which retains valuable defined benefit elements,

While that 28-day deadline was subsequently withdrawn – though only when it became apparent that just a handful of the RPEs would willingly sign away the protections and right to CWU representation that come with being a team member grade employee – management then decreed, despite vehement CWU objections, that while the RPEs could opt to continue as D1’s, the unagreed new job description would still apply.

Both the union and its repayment planning members regard that move as diminishing the fundamental importance of the advanced engineering skills required to conduct a hugely complex and highly lucrative role for Openreach –  typically where major construction projects require a complete rearrangement of the network. Crucially, that work involves a high level of technical understanding and expertise which inform detailed discussion with councils and major construction companies and their clients to ensure that Openreach doesn’t pick up the tab for costs that should rightly be borne by others.

A significant number of the group had taken the trouble to individually write to their managers to express exactly these heartfelt concerns – hoping upon hope that the message would finally get through – but patience finally snapped a fortnight ago when some managers began to aggressively question members over the views they had honestly expressed.

Davie concludes: “The National Team cannot thank the members enough for clearly setting out the manner in which they wanted to express their anger and also by demonstrating overwhelmingly their willingness to fight for what they believe in.

“I would hope that by now Openreach senior management will be aware of the  expressions of dismay,  helplessness and even despair made by so many of our members in their letters to line managers – and no decent employer can afford to ignore this type of painfully honest feedback – nor the anger that is reflected in this ballot result.

“The company must listen to what its repayment planners are saying , get back round the table and resolve this matter – or be under no illusions that the whole of the CWU will be behind our members to help deliver the right outcome’.