Technology redundancies temporarily on hold as crunch-time talks go to the wire

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Thursday 3rd September 2020

Intensive CWU efforts to ensure that every possible alternative to compulsory redundancies that would trigger a full-scale industrial relations crisis in BT Technology are properly exhausted by management are now entering their final stages.

Three days after the first of around 190 job cuts were originally scheduled come into effect, eleventh-hour talks are continuing on new CWU counter-proposals that were presented to the company last Thursday and further explored in a meeting with Technology’s HR director Mark Murphy yesterday (Wednesday).

Triggered by the union’s decision on August 18 to appeal directly to the division’s Chief Technology & Information Officer Howard Watson for last-ditch emergency talks, those discussions continued this morning and are set to resume tomorrow (Friday) prior to a make-or-break session that has yet to be scheduled but is expected to take place early next week.

While previous CWU counter-proposals have been repeatedly knocked back by the company the latest CWU suggestions centre on a major survey of members that has proven beyond doubt that there are sufficient numbers prepared to take voluntary leaver packages to at least significantly mitigate the staff surpluses currently identified without recourse to compulsory redundancies.

“Ultimately this is about the union impressing on BT Technology its legal responsibilities under Section 188 of the 1992 Employment Act to  avoid where possible, or at last mitigate or reduce, the compulsory redundancies currently being proposed,” explains CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge.

“In total no fewer than 1,148 of our members in Technology responded to a direct question posed by the union as to whether they would be interested in taking a voluntary leaver package – and even just considering the significant percentage who positively identified their precise role by giving their OUC code it’s obvious that we could resolve this issue without the company resorting to large scale compulsory redundancies.”

                                 Sally Bridge

The CWU national officer for BT Technology continues: “The union’s Technology national team is absolutely the convinced that, at the very least, the number of redundancies currently being proposed could be significantly mitigated – and we’ve made it abundantly clear to management that they have a legal as well as moral responsibility to look seriously at the sensible proposals we have tabled to mitigate, avoid and reduce compulsory redundancies wherever possible.”

The union’s counter proposals – which cover not just those whose current roles are scheduled to cease altogether under Technology’s automation, modernisation and consolidation drives,  but also areas where varying degrees of staff surpluses have been identified within teams – centre on reworked CWU suggestions for the extension of redundancy selection pools and a new proposal that would allow for ‘job swaps’.

Under the latter, those not currently in scope for redundancy but who wish to take a VR package would be able to swap places with individuals who are in scope but who wish to stay.

Significantly, both the redundancy mitigation measures have been carefully formulated to accommodate the business’s  instance – repeatedly reiterated throughout the redundancy consultation process  – that it needs to keep its top talent to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

Sally concludes: “Obviously it’s too early to tell whether these latest CWU counter-proposals will provide the breakthrough that is needed to break the current impasse – but it is heartening that they were given a fair hearing at yesterday’s meeting with the HR director, and that no-one will be made compulsorily redundant until our proposals have been fully considered.

“We’ve continued to put flesh on the proposals today, and those talks will continue tomorrow – but you can’t get away from the fact that, from the CWU’s perspective, this is the final roll of the dice to avoid a bad industrial relations situation getting exponentially worse and that, whichever way it goes, next week is crunch-time.

“The union wants the business to thrive just as much as management – so there isn’t a whisker between us on that front – but we simply cannot accept that uncomfortable change is imposed on a loyal and hard-working workforce without reasonable consideration of the people issues at stake.”