Rethink now or face strike action in a fortnight, Openreach bosses told

Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach

Formal notice of two consecutive strike days has been served on Openreach – with the industrial action commencing in just under a fortnight unless  management  reconsiders the imposition of grading changes that have incensed the union’s small but intensely loyal membership of Repayment Project Engineers (RPEs).

Barring genuine movement  by bosses to address a raft of serious  concerns that have been consistently  flagged up by RPEs since the move was first announced last July, the first industrial action to be witnessed anywhere in BT Group since November 1999 will take place on Wednesday February 24 and Thursday  February 25.

The initial two days of strike action – which will involve all of the union’s 170 D1-graded RPE members – follows one of the most overwhelming rejections of management contempt for legitimate workforce concerns to be witnessed in an industrial action ballot in generations.

Announced last Thursday, the 86% of RPEs who voted to take industrial action on a 94% turnout comprehensively trounced the onerous legal thresholds that have to be met for workers to withdraw their labour under the UK’s punitive anti-union legislation.

Armed with the strongest possible proof of RPEs fury at management’s unilateral decision to take the role out of the CWU-represented NewGRID grading structure and place it on the lowest rung of the managerial ladder – something the highly skilled engineers believe represents a dangerous mismatch to their skill-set and responsibilities – the CWU immediately gave the company five days to break the impasse.

Yet, despite the union offering to work over the weekend to reach a negotiated solution, Openreach only made itself available for talks on Tuesday  – the final day of the window of opportunity before which the CWU had always said it would make its next move.

As such, following no real progress in those discussions, an emergency meeting of the union’s Executive authorised the formal announcement of the initial two days of industrial action yesterday (Wednesday) afternoon.

In the letter that was immediately delivered to management, the CWU has once again reiterated its “willingness to discuss these matters further with a view to reaching a negotiated settlement  on this matter” – with the union once again stressing its availability for talks whenever the company wants them.

Davie Bowman

In a special communication that was simultaneously sent to RPE members, CWU national officer for Openreach , Davie Bowman,  pointed out that management’s response to the CWU’s approaches had been “more than disappointing” given the magnitude of not just the statutory industrial action ballot result but also a similarly decisive consultative ballot that preceded it.

He explained: “The CWU set out very clearly the magnitude of the result, the strength of feeling among our members on the full range of issues we have discussed and sought a response to those issues.  Unfortunately, in the view of the CWU National Team, significant progress was not made and the company merely wanted to ‘check again’ that the issues we were raising were fully understood and supported by you.

“This morning the CWU were informed that that the senior management team are considering ‘roundtables’ to garner views from you the members.  Of course the company are entitled to discuss issues with their employees, but given a 94% turnout and 86% vote for strike action it seems clear to the NT that, as feared, the company is not willing to take your genuine concerns seriously.

“You must ask yourself after all this time, the outstanding ballot result and the communication sent to you last Thursday, what the real purpose of this exercise may be?  This can only be viewed as an attempt to delay any action the CWU is legally entitled to take.

Davie concluded: “Thanks again for your fortitude and strength and be sure that, as we move in to this next phase, you have the full support of the whole CWU behind you every step of the way.”