Solidarity and resolve as Openreach RPEs prepare to make history tomorrow


The countdown is on to the first industrial action anywhere in BT Group since 1999, with the union’s small but intensely loyal membership of Repayment Project Engineers (RPEs) intent on delivering a historic stand against management intransigence, misinformation and now tacit intimidation.

Incensed at not just Openreach’s imposition of the fiercely disputed re-grading of their role – but also the company’s steadfast refusal over many months to respond constructively to their legitimate concerns – from one minute past midnight tonight (Tuesday) the 170-strong group will commence two consecutive days of strike action.

That action – which will kick off with a virtual RPE members’ picket line at 9am tomorrow (register here to join) – will be just the start. A further three all-out strike days are already scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week, demonstrating the scale of RPEs’ fury over seven months of management’s stonewalling of their objections since the changes were imposed last July.

Their anger has only been exacerbated in recent weeks by veiled but increasingly pervasive attempts at intimidation by some managers. Uncomfortable one-to-ones and not-so-subtle hints at how individuals can ‘report for work while outwardly appearing to be strikingall point towards growing company unease at a situation which is slipping beyond  its control.

The tactics aren’t working, however. The tight-knit group of  highly skilled D1-graded engineers remain solidly united that management’s decision to take the role out of the CWU-represented grading structure and place it on the lowest rung of the managerial ladder is wrong on multiple fronts.

Apart from representing a dangerous mismatch to their predominantly technical skill-set and responsibilities, RPEs are convinced the performance-related incentivisation that comes with management grades  threatens the bond of trust between them and third party customers with whom they are supposed to act as honest brokers – potentially resulting in untold reputational damage for Openreach.

Tomorrow’s strike action, which has been driven from the outset by the RPEs themselves, follows one of the most overwhelming rejections of management contempt for clearly articulated and highly legitimate workforce concerns to be witnessed in an industrial action ballot in generations.

Comprehensively trouncing the onerous legal thresholds that have to be met for workers to withdraw their labour under the UK’s punitive anti-union legislation, no fewer than 86% of those participating in the ballot voted to take strike action on a 94% turnout

This week’s first phase of industrial action in Openreach – which poignantly ends more than 21 years of industrial peace in BT at a time when tensions are already soaring over multiple threats to job security and hard-won Ts&Cs that are erupting across BT Group – became inevitable on Friday after Openreach’s rejection of the latest of many CWU offers of talks to try to break the impasse.

Invited to a hastily scheduled meeting with just after last Wednesday’s announcement of the second tranche of industrial action next week, for a moment the union’s Openreach national team dared to hope that management was on the verge of stepping  back from the brink.

In the event, however, the company merely reiterated the well-worn line that, while the RPEs’ strength of feeling was understood, their concerns were ‘misplaced’ and that the company has no intention of changing tack!

CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman, said: “There’s no doubt that a subsequent company communication reiterating that position that was emailed out to RPEs on Friday evening poured even more fuel on  their anger – and that was even before it emerged that all new annual leave applications and overtime has been blocked for the next four weeks.

“The closing of the annual leave book is a particularly insidious example of the company putting the boot in, because management well knows that, on account of the Covid pandemic, some people have ‘use or lose’ annual leave days owing that they have to take by the end of March. Those individuals are now being doubly penalised.

“Whatever Openreach is trying to achieve has spectacularly misfired, however – because this has only served to increase the resolve of RPEs to fight their corner – and to win!”

  • The first full day of  RPE industrial action will be marked  in style tomorrow (Wednesday) evening with an audacious CWU attempt to host the ‘world’s largest-ever online picket line’. A number of high-profile guest speakers will be joined by representatives from across the CWU.

The ‘Solidarity Session’ will commence at 7pm on Wednesday 24th February. Register to participate here.

Please share this link far and wide and encourage friends and family to join in as well.