Stark choice for Openreach as RPEs deliver historic industrial action vote

Telecoms & Financial Services

The first statutory industrial action ballot in BT Group in more than a decade has delivered one of the most overwhelming rejections of management contempt for legitimate workforce concerns to be seen in generations.

In an extraordinary demonstration of Openreach Repayment Project Engineers’ (RPEs) anger and dismay at imposed changes to the grading of the role, the small but fiercely loyal group of CWU members have voted by 86% on a 94% turnout to take industrial action unless management belatedly change tack.

Not just  exceeding but comprehensively trouncing  onerous legal thresholds that need to be met for workers to withdraw their labour under the UK’s punitive anti-union legislation, today’s (Thursday’s) formal industrial action ballot turnout beats even the 92% secured in a consultative ballot on the same issue last September.

At the time it was hoped that such a decisive demonstration of the willingness of the union’s 170  RPE members to take strike action, if necessary, would  force Openreach back to the negotiating table. Such expectations, however, proved futile – with management instead adopting the same belligerent and uncompromising approach that is wreaking havoc with industrial relations across BT Group.

It is not insignificant that today’s result of the statutory ballot that therefore ensued comes less than two months  after CWU members across BT, Openreach and EE delivered the starkest possible warning in a separate consultative ballot that, if necessary, they are prepared to take the company on over unprecedented management attacks on job security and hard won terms and conditions.

Announced just after 2pm – and simultaneously reported to Openreach in accordance with legal requirements – the CWU has forcefully reiterated its oft-repeated demand for the company to return to the negotiating table in an attempt to avert otherwise inevitable industrial action in Openreach.

In a letter to senior management, the union’s national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman stated: “It is clear from that result our members have demonstrated, once again, their clear opposition to the movement of the RPE role from the team member grading structure.

“The CWU believe the company should reflect on the outcome of the statutory ballot and urgently meet with the CWU,” he added, stressing the union “would expect a meeting or meetings to take place within the next five days…with the objective of the company confirming that the RPE role will remain as a team member grade.”

Davie’s message to the RPE members who have made such brave stand against management’s autocratic and contemptuous dismissal of their heartfelt concerns is simple: “You’ve made it clear this is not a CWU-driven issue or campaign, as has been suggested by the company,” he insists.

“ This is about the role now and in the future, for you and those who carry out the work going forward.

“You’ve made just as clear your concerns for the customers you serve and the company itself if Openreach does not change course.

“ The whole of the CWU is behind you, and will support you in the days and weeks to come. It has been a long journey to get to this point, and at every turn and challenge you have got stronger – and we are sure that will continue.

“You should be very proud of yourselves.”

  • A special video message to members on the outcome of the RPE ballot can be viewed here