Tensions rising at Enterprise


Frustration at the slow progress being made to find suitable redeployment options for nearly 200 ‘surplus’ BT Enterprise employees who’ve decided against taking voluntary leaver payments was palpable at a major branch forum on Tuesday.

Despite the fact that 111 of the 367 employees who were placed ‘at risk’  last autumn have already accepted voluntary redundancy packages –  with a further 43 voluntary exits  awaiting confirmation  – as of the end of last week 194 loyal employees who want to stay with BT still had the threat of compulsory redundancy hanging over them.

With suspicions mounting that BT is not fully honouring longstanding agreements that stipulate the steps that should be taken to identify redeployment opportunities in staff surplus situations, speakers from branches with the largest number of unresolved cases forcefully reiterated the importance of the union sticking rigidly to its fundamental ‘red line’ on compulsory redundancies.

The most problematic of the larger Enterprise sites where redeployment opportunities currently remain elusive include:

  • Sevenoaks, where 29 team members remain at risk of compulsory redundancy
  • The Ambassador House and Monument offices in London, where around 20 individuals are ‘in-scope’
  • Cambridge and Colchester, which each have around eight team member grades for whom no solutions have yet been found.

Chair of the union’s Enterprise national team, James Samuels, explains: “Of the larger sites where Enterprise has identified surpluses, Lincoln, Liverpool and Skelmersdale currently look as if they will be easier to resolve on account of the proximity of alternative employment possibilities in BT.

“But, in addition to the other larger sites where potential solutions are less immediately obvious,  there are also 34 separate sites with just one or two people ‘at risk’. A great deal of the work currently being conducted by the union both nationally and locally is aimed at trying identify redeployment opportunities for these particularly vulnerable individuals.

“Similarly, a huge amount of effort is being devoted to the 21 homeworkers who’ve been placed at risk. Their situations are often especially challenging, not least because they often became homeworkers in the first place on account of health issues or caring responsibilities which make travelling difficult.”


The clock is ticking …

The urgency of finding redeployment opportunities for ‘at risk’ individuals who want to remain with BT is highlighted by the fact that the first ‘IC3’ meetings – the earliest occasion on which a compulsory redundancy exercise notice could theoretically be issued – are imminent.

Nationally the CWU is piling the pressure on BT to reflect on the wisdom of its Enterprise division pursuing an inflammatory course of action that would set the company on a direct collision course with the union.

Simultaneously the CWU is stepping up its challenge to the inadequacies of Enterprise’s handling of the staff surplus situation to date.

Amongst the problems highlighted at Tuesday’s forum were:

  • The failure of hiring managers across BT to give due regard to the  ‘priority status’ that should be afforded to ‘at risk’ employees when applying for alternative roles elsewhere in the business – with a number of apparently suitably qualified and graded applicants not even making it through the ‘paper sift’ to secure interviews
  • The thwarting of the union’s efforts to secure alternative work in other local workstreams where vacancies existed on account of that work being moved elsewhere in the UK
  • Managers treating IC1 and IC2 meetings as ‘tick-box’ exercises, with IC2 meetings regularly proceeding before promised responses had been provided to pertinent questions posed by the union or individuals in the IC1 that the manager had not been able to answer
  • A widespread perception that the considerable efforts being made by the CWU both nationally and locally to find redeployment solutions are not being matched by the business

Enterprise national team chair James Samuels explains: “The CWU is working as hard as it can to present workable solutions to the company – but it often feels as if we’re having to do all the heavy lifting.

“While it’s true that the company has accepted some of our counter-proposals – including giving ‘at risk’ individuals visibility of roles that are currently conducted by third party agency resource – this has only happened because we’ve pressed the issue.

“There’s real frustration out there that the number of ‘at risk’ individuals isn’t going down a lot more quickly, and a sense that the company could be doing a lot more to make that happen.”

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr concludes: “The CWU has argued from the very outset that there was absolutely no reason for Enterprise management to raise the spectre of compulsory redundancies. The division’s current staff surplus pales into insignificance compared with the huge headcount reductions that have taken place across BT since privatisation without the need for a single forced exit – and the CWU has a long history of working constructively with BT in these situations.

“This time round, however, Enterprise seems to be intent on creating a wholly unnecessary industrial relations crisis.

“I can’t over-stress the need for us to be battle ready – and that means ensuring that our membership records are wholly up to date and that our members in all business units are aware of the seriousness of this situation.”