Solidarity and respect for ‘brave and selfless’ Openreach RPE strikers

Telecoms & Financial Services

Friday 26th February 2021

A tidal wave of respect and support continues to flood in for the union’s small but intensely loyal membership of Openreach Repayment Engineers who yesterday (Thursday) completed their second consecutive day of strike action over imposed changes to the grading of their role.

On Wednesday  170-strong group commenced their rock-solid stand against management intransigence, misinformation and, latterly, tacit intimidation – kicking off the first of five all-out strike days that have been announced to date with an virtual picket line that has since exploded into a mass expression of solidarity online.

With further strike days already scheduled for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday next week – and thousands now following the dispute on social media – that support continues to mushroom across not just the CWU but the whole of the trade union and wider labour movement.

On Wednesday evening well over 400 logged onto a special ‘Solidarity Session’ on Zoom to mark the first day of industrial action anywhere in BT Group since 1999 – and since then special video messages from the main contributors have been viewed by many thousands more across the union’s social media channels.

Commenting on the massive impact being made by a comparatively tiny group of aggrieved workers whose patience has finally expired after seven months of management stonewalling of their legitimate concerns, CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman insisted the company is now reaping the consequences of its own arrogance.

“The RPEs may be small in number – but, as the song goes, they are ‘Part of the Union’,” he insisted. Praising the courage of members who’ve driven the dispute from the outset – ultimately delivering an astonishing 86% ‘Yes’ vote for industrial action on a 94% turnout – Davie added: “It’s daunting to take on a blue chip multinational company that has lots of resources to throw at this dispute – but whatever the company’s resources they are dealing with a union that doesn’t give up and isn’t going to go away!”

That key message of the RPEs collective determination to prevail was repeated time and again throughout the Solidarity Session – along with disgust and bewilderment  at Openreach’s refusal to even consider the possibility that heartfelt workforce objections its re-grading decision – none of which are centred on self-interest – are well-founded.

RPEs are convinced the performance-related incentivisation that comes with management grades threatens the crucial 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.

“It’s the company that needs to sit up and take notice,” stressed the union’s Openreach national team chair, Julia Upton. “This has been driven by the RPEs gut instinct to do the right thing- and the company needs to realise it can’t ignore that strength of feeling.”

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr agreed – arguing that the fact that management’s total intransigence on the issue has resulted in the first industrial action anywhere in BT Group for 22 years tells its own story.

“The CWU has a strong track record in working with the company in resolving disputes,” he stressed, “The problem is that this time there seems to be no will from BT or Openreach to do so.

“There’s a dogma in this company at the moment…but if this company believes they’re going to smash RPE planners and they’re going to ride roughshod over the CWU they’re making a very big mistake.

“We’re behind our RPEs all the way!”


Solidarity Session soundbites:


General secretary Dave Ward: “I want to pay tribute to our RPE members. This is not strike action in normal times, and that takes tremendous courage and resolve. It’s time to stand up to BT. It’s time to think about what the RPE members are doing today and what the rest of the constituency may need to do to turn management around.”


CWU president and chair of the TFS Executive, Karen Rose: “The last time that a section of the BT membership took action was in 1999 and that says a lot about the significance of where we are today.”


TUC deputy general secretary Paul Nowak: “It beggars belief that right now -when your members are providing a vital service to the public as key workers – the company has forced you into this dispute. That’s a point of shame that the company should reflect on.”


Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr: “I hope other parts of BT will see sense in the next few weeks or so, because if they don’t it won’t be 170 RPE members who will be out striking – it will be 45,000!”