Tension rises in Technology amid management stonewalling on redeployment

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Monday 29th June 2020

The seriousness of potential job threats stemming from BT Technology’s ongoing transformation programme – amplified by the massive site rationalisation programme – have been laid bare to branch activists attending a special online branch forum.

Despite three months of intensive CWU efforts to engage with management on ways to mitigate the impact of Technology’s site location strategy – which was branded “simply unacceptable” by the union when it was revealed in March – to date every single one of the union’s counter proposals to open up genuine dialogue have been rejected.

From the outset the CWU has warned that hundreds of team member grade employees will be left ‘stranded’ by the business’s  aspiration to consolidate most of its office-based operations in to just six locations nationwide.

At present, Technology’s employees are dispersed across nearly 400 sites – but, under the division’s ‘Better Workplace’ proposals that were unveiled to 8,000 impacted staff (including managers) this spring, the division will consolidate into six ‘UK Hubs’ plus a number of ‘Specialist Buildings’ focussing on a single function.

Despite intense efforts by the CWU to extract detailed information from the business over the proposed timescale of multiple building closures over the next four years – and number of individuals who will be displaced from their current roles by not just those closures but an associated ‘transformation’ drive which will profoundly change the types of roles being conducted in different locations – all the CWU knows for certain at present is that:

  • Technology’s six ‘UK Hubs’ will be located in  Ipswich, Bristol, Birmingham, Belfast, Manchester and London – at a stroke raising profound questions over the future job security of huge numbers of employees who are beyond reasonable travelling distance of those locations. Union efforts to persuade the company to consider the possibility  of additional hubs – notably in Scotland, Wales and the South West where large number of employees would find it impossible to commute to Manchester, Birmingham  or Bristol respectively – have fallen on deaf ears
  • A total of 12 additional single-function buildings will remain  – but these provide scant comfort for displaced Technology staff living nearby, because management has categorically rejected CWU appeals for office space in these, or any other, locations to be offered to any anyone not involved in that niche area of work.

The Specialist Buildings initially announced in March included the command centre in Sheffield; the UK international satellite gateway at Madley; a ‘test centre’ in Borehamwood, broadcast/media functions at BT Tower in London and subsea cable termination in Goonhilly, Penzance and Bude.

BT Group-wide issue

An already bleak situation is being made even worse by the fact that Technology’s ‘Better Workplace’ programme is not happening in isolation.

Just this week Openreach announced a new ‘location strategy’ which unleashes a full-frontal assault on the division’s desk-based workers nationwide.

Under the plan, which was been presented to the CWU as a fait accompli, without consultation, the desk-based work that is predominantly conducted in over 30 ‘Centres of Excellence’ across the country will be concentrated into just nine locations.

The fact that other BT lines of business will be facing their own massive redeployment challenges at a time when displaced Technology members (and vice versa) are seeking redeployment already looks set to make a bad problem worse – further exacerbated by the fact that the staggered Better Workplace announcements by different CFUs mean that, as yet, there is no definitive picture of what work will ultimately remain in any geographical location.

Yet, against this difficult backdrop, Technology management is still rejecting  CWU appeals for other avenues to find solutions for displaced individuals to be seriously considered – including additional home/agile working and the use of office space in otherwise empty buildings that Technology has to retain on account of the crucial equipment contained within.

Sally Bridge

Pointing out that the current impasse is taking place against increasing management impatience over the 30-plus redeployees already looking for new work in the company – and ominous comments by some managers that pay and pension protection is deterring potential hiring managers – CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge warns that a significant “hardening of language” by the company means that uncharted territory lies ahead.,

“There’s massive change coming our way at a real pace,” the union’s national officer for Technology warned branch activists on Friday.

“Three months ago we might have thought that Better Workplace was the major challenge we’d have to face in Technology, but that it would be a slow burning issue – but, with transformation already hitting us in waves, it’s now apparent we no longer have the luxury of time on our hands.

“Over the coming weeks we will be stepping up our engagement with members because it’s absolutely essential that they understand what is going on and why we need do draw a line in sand.”

Ken Woolley

Technology national team chair Ken Woolley concludes: “Last month the first ever compulsory redundancy of a team member grade took place in the Enterprise division, and more are due to take place in the coming months. It cannot be a coincidence that, at the very same time the true impact of the Better Workplace programme is starting to become clear across BT Group, the company is now also moving to attack redundancy terms.

“Members across BT Group need to be aware that no-one is safe, regardless of their role, because the attitude Better Workplace of their employer has fundamentally changed – and given that the programme  is more advanced in Technology than elsewhere, our members in that CFU need to take that threat very seriously indeed.”

The worrying situation developing in Technology is one of a number of challenges the union is currently facing across BT Group. These will be discussed in a special Facebook live session that will be held tonight at 6pm here