Stepping up the fightback against two-year probationary periods

Telecoms & Financial Services

BT has been left in no doubt as to the level of CWU anger at the company’s decision to impose 24-month probation periods on all new joiners – including former agency staff who’ve already given many months and sometimes years of service before being offered a permanent BT contract.

Following on from a barnstormer of a debate at CWU Annual Conference in April – where a whole section of the agenda was devoted to the issue, with speaker after speaker lambasting the move on multiple fronts – the union has initiated formal discussions with the company by presenting a written summary of the multiple concerns expressed in Bournemouth.

No fewer than four motions dealing with the issue were debated at Conference, with delegates queuing up to attack a “breach of natural justice” that the CWU believes is destroying morale, leading good staff to seek new jobs elsewhere, costing the company millions in wasted training and generally giving new recruits, on whom BT’s continued success will ultimately depend, that they aren’t valued by the organisation.

Many speakers lashed out at a surge in the number of Final Formal Warnings (FFWs) being issued for even minor issues amongst those on the extended probation periods – with one former agency employee who’d been converted to a BT contract after seven months recounting the stress of “31 months of walking on eggshells scared to make a mistake because it could possibly be your last.”

Debbie Hardy of Somerset Devon and Cornwall poignantly articulated a general astonishment at the company’s apparent inability to recognise that the new joiner process was a monumental ‘own goal’.

“It not only results in unfair dismissals with no recourse to employment tribunals but also lowers moral and raises attrition,” she pointed out

“Members who are put on a FFW for the smallest breach of the attendance, performance or discipline processes lose trust and confidence with the employer and, faced with the situation where they could lose their job and potentially their home, they sometimes think the better option is to jump rather than be pushed.

“Why recruit people just to set them up to fail? I truly believe that BT’s reputation as an employer is shot to pieces by their refusal to reverse this policy.”

Two months on, the latest efforts to persuade BT to rethink the new joiner process is being led by assistant secretary Dave Jukes who has already written to BT Group pointing out discrepancies in length of probation periods in different parts of the company.

“Parts of BT Property & Facilities Services (BTPFS) have shorter probationary periods – so there’s a clear inconsistency in the way new joiners are treated in different parts of the company,” Dave explains.

“Add to that the fact that BT is completely out of sync with most other major employers in rigidly applying 24-month probationary periods – and the CWU is convinced that there are very strong arguments for the company re-thinking a policy that clearly doesn’t benefit anyone – least of all the business!

“We’ve not yet had a clear indication as to where the company’s thinking is heading on this issue – but hope that progress can be made soon.”