Stop this madness, CWU tells BT, as one compulsory redundancy notice is issued


A massive threat to more than three decades of industrial peace in BT took a dramatic and dangerous turn for the worse on Wednesday as Enterprise division management issued the first compulsory redundancy notice ever to have been served to a team member grade employee in BT Group.

The highly inflammatory move represents a huge escalation in what was already recognised to be the most serious challenge the union has faced in BT since the 1987 national strike.

Ironically, since Enterprise dropped the bombshell that 367 jobs were ‘at risk’ in November last year – triggering CWU fury by refusing to commit to deal with the surplus using time-honoured protocols based on voluntarism which have seen more than 100,000 leave BT since privatisation without the need for a single forced exit – huge progress has  been made in addressing the size of the problem.

For months the union has led the way by mounting a massive exercise to identity as many suitable redeployment opportunities as possible across BT Group – while simultaneously co-operating fully with management over a voluntary redundancy exercise which, by the end of last month, had attracted more than 150 applicants.

Prompted in large part by behind-scenes lobbying by the CWU, multiple redeployment opportunities have been secured in BT Consumer and Openreach. Simultaneously the CWU has spearheaded an imaginative drive to ensure that ‘at risk’ employees are given visibility of alternative work in their vicinity which is currently conducted by agency contractors. The union has also conducted considerable research into overtime levels across BT Group to identify areas where the creation of new posts would be cost-effective for the company.

Despite mounting CWU concerns in recent weeks that it has repeatedly been the union, not management, that has been doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ to get the number of ‘at risk’ individuals down, the number for whom solutions have not yet been found has dropped by over 50%.

With months still to run before the company’s proposed end-dates for the roles it deems surplus – meaning time is still left to identify redeployment opportunities that may not even have yet arisen– the CWU’s insistence from the outset that any move to compulsory redundancies would be ideological rather than ‘necessary’ has been increasingly borne out.

Yet on Wednesday – despite high-level last minute CWU pressure on BT Group management to reflect on the wisdom of Enterprise pursuing an inflammatory course of action that would set the company on a direct collision course with the union –  the CR bombshell was unceremoniously dropped.

Poignantly, just as Telecoms Executive members on the union’s BT Committee were meeting to discuss, amongst other things,  the deepening crisis in Enterprise, a member in Brighton was served formal notice that her final day of service would be May 31st .

Commenting on the profound and deeply troubling development, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “Let me stress from the outset that the CWU considers this compulsory redundancy notice an absolute disgrace.

“I question its validity, necessity and above all their morality given the obvious lunacy of any suggestion that a company the size of BT cannot find alternative roles for a comparatively tiny surplus in Enterprise that pales into insignificance compared to the huge headcount reductions that have repeatedly taken place across BT, with the full co-operation of the CWU, since privatisation.

“It makes me sick to the core that this loyal and long-serving employee is being treated in this way – and even now I call on management to right a wrong of which they should be deeply ashamed.”

Andy continued: “It’s important to note that there’s nearly four months to go before the Brighton member’s theoretical end-date –  and in that time the union will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to get BT to recognise its responsibilities to employees that it always claims to believe are its ‘greatest asset’.”

Calling on management to stop pouring petrol on a fire that threatens to burn out of control if more compulsory redundancy notices are served in the coming weeks, Andy concludes: “This is not a fight that the CWU has brought on – in fact we’ve done everything we possibly can to avert it by identifying practical solutions that can and do exist.

“Even now management could stop this madness – and a good starting point would be the postponement of a large number of IC3 meetings that have not yet taken place, which we believe could result in further compulsory redundancy notices being issued.

“My message to senior BT Group management is that, left unchecked, the path that Enterprise is embarking on will come back to bite them – and that, conversely, the CWU is committed to work with the company to achieve everything it wants without creating a needless industrial relations and staff morale crisis.

“My urgent message to any of our ‘at risk’ members in Enterprise, meanwhile, is to make absolutely sure that you are accompanied by a CWU rep if you are called into any consultation meeting.”