Telecoms & Financial Services Conference: Day One round-up

Telecoms & Financial Services

The CWU’s 2019 Telecoms & Financial Services (T&FS) Conference opened this morning in Bournemouth, with several hundred delegates from across the country gathering at the Bournemouth International Centre to discuss developments across the sector and to make the policy decisions that will set the T&FS Executive’s negotiating agenda for the coming year.

Proceedings began with deputy general secretary Andy Kerr giving his annual ‘state of the union’ speech covering developments in the businesses where the union has members. Highlighting the above median pay rises achieved for members across the T&FS sector, Andy went on to stress the union’s strong record of fighting to defend members’ terms and conditions when recognised companies embark on major change. However, he lambasted the “fiasco” of BT’s recent outsourcing of its facilities services division – pointing out that it was only the hard work of the union that prevented employees from being seriously negatively impacted in a number of areas.

“Outsourcing has been unmasked for exactly what it’s designed to do: cut costs, attack pay and Ts&Cs and save money,” he stressed – predicting that, with BT embarking on its latest ‘transformation’ drive,  the union’s hard fought ‘ENDGAME’ campaign will “return in one guise or another in BT in the future.”

After celebrating the success of the union’s ‘Close the Gap’ campaign in forcing BT to end the travesty of ‘Pay Between Assignment’ contacts, Andy moved on to the recently launched ‘Our Hours’ campaign. That campaign, which launched in February, highlights  the unfair treatment of an ever-growing percentage of Openreach engineers who are being forced to work for up to two hours a day for free on account of the fact that those recruited since 2011 have been placed outside the existing Parking at Home policy, and have no agreed commute time.

Stressing that such campaigns are reflective of a new determination on the part of the union to adopt a proactive rather than a reactive approach, Andy stressed: “We need to start controlling a situation and identifying what is coming over the hill, engendering a debate about what we want to achieve.”

That proved to be the major recurring theme of the first day T&FS Conference – with delegates unanimously passing a series of motions instructing the T&FS Executive to institute just such a proactive approach. Those motions included:

  • A Great Western Branch proposition calling on the Executive to “think outside the box” and run aspirational campaigns on such issues as reducing the working week, harmonising and increasing annual leave as well as legitimising genuine flexible working for everyone.
  • A T&FS Executive/ Somerset, Devon & Cornwall branch motion committing the union to launch a major new campaign on attendances if there has been no progress on improving attendance patters in BT Consumer by June 1.
  • A South East Central Branch demand negotiations with Openreach Service Delivery to secure an agreement that addresses widespread unfairness associated with some managers’ abuse of the so called ‘Flex’ system.

One of the most passionately debated motions of the day committed the union to take a similarly proactive stance against possible threats to job security connected with BT Group’s new ‘One BT’ strategy, which has resulted in the company embarking on a number of new ‘transformation programmes’.

Reaffirming the union’s existing policy of total opposition to any compulsory redundancies, the Executive motion – forcefully moved by deputy general secretary Andy Kerr – unequivocally commits the union to “immediately embark on a campaign of opposition and, if necessary ballot members for industrial action” should the company challenge what one speaker described as the “reddest of the  union’s red lines”.

“If one person is threatened with compulsory redundancy we will start the campaign immediately, pledged Andy, adding: “If it happens to one person it could happen to you the next day.”

Speaker after speaker agreed, with every single contributor to the debate insisting that the union simply cannot allow BT to challenge the longstanding ‘understanding’ between the union and the company on voluntarism.

“Once the genie is out of the bottle we will have to fight it and we will have to win,” stressed John Turnbull of Mid-Wales, The Marches & North Staffs Branch – with Mark Taggart of Manchester clerical predicting that, if the company brings on the fight, a torrent of outrage from CWU members across the country would deliver as solid a CWU response today as that which was secured by the union in 1987.

Citing BT’s recent actions with regards to BTFS as a possible precursor of worse to follow, Bill Dixon of South London, Surrey & North Hampshire branch pledged that “if the company makes anyone compulsorily redundant we will all be out.”

Delegates then went on to vent their fury at BT’s treatment of the 1,700 CWU represented grade Facilities Services employees who were TUPE transferred to ISS and CBRE on April 1 – unanimously backing another T&FS Executive motion that commits the union to enter into discussions with BT to agree asset of protocols that will govern BT’s approach to any future major change.

“We cannot allow the company to approach or deal with such decisions as outsourcing in the same way again,” stressed assistant secretary Sally Bridge in moving the emergency motion.

“From the outset the TUPE of BTFS to CBRE and ISS was fraught with problems…exposing  an ill-prepared, disorganised management that only confirmed the union’s worst fears that Project Ruby was ill-conceived and not thought though.

“There were times when it was hard to tell the difference between cock-up and conspiracy, they became so indistinguishable, just sort of merging into a homogenous blob.”

Amongst those contributing to debate were a number of former BTFS employees who poignantly told of their feelings of betrayal at having the rug pulled from under them by BT.

“It’s been a total shambles from start to finish,” explained Tony Faulkner of North Wales & Chester Combined – stressing that, while he and his colleagues still have no idea what the future holds, the support provided  by the CWU had been the sole crumb of comfort in an otherwise desperate situation.

Recognition at EE

On a day dominated by sober reflection on a raft of serious issues affecting members across the T&FS constituency, the news that a comprehensive recognition agreement has now been agreed with EE provided a welcome lift to this morning’s proceedings. (See earlier news story)

The delight of EE reps from the four branches whose recruitment in the company’s call centres paved the way for the breakthrough was palpable as they digested the news that was delivered midway through a debate on a South Wales Branch motion calling on the Executive to deliver a recognition agreement by December.

A number of those reps admitted to shedding tears of joy as assistant secretary John East took Conference by surprise by waving the newly signed recognition agreement and declaring that the terms of the motion had already been met – seven months early!

Stressing the turning point had been the launch at last year’s Conference of an innovative free membership experiment to turbo-charge recruitment, John said: “Free membership has been an overwhelming success, with over 1,000 new members joining in May last year alone, and a constant stream ever since.

“This was down to the work of the four branches with EE call centres, but even more to the efforts of the CWU workplace reps in those call centres.”

Inviting the reps – some of whom were attending their first ever CWU Conference – to rise to their feet, John concluded: “Conference, I ask you to rise to your feet to applaud these guys standing here along with the branches and everyone else who has worked tirelessly for many years to achieve this moment.”