Union shines spotlight on BT’s ‘cynical’ compulsory redundancy threat


No stone is being left unturned in the CWU’s drive to expose the compulsory redundancy threat hanging over hundreds of team members in BT Enterprise as needless and morally bankrupt.

Both conclusions are already backed up by the company’s persistent refusal to take compulsory redundancies off the table despite the identification of  suitable redeployment opportunities for the vast majority of those who do not wish to take voluntary leaver payments.

But now mounting evidence of inconsistencies between the way those volunteering for VR are being treated at different sites is amplifying concern that tried and tested mechanisms that have been used successfully for decades to deal with much larger staff surplus situations, without the need for a single compulsory redundancy, are being cynically shunned to test the CWU’s resolve on an issue that has always been one of the union’s fundamental red lines.

Compared to the 60,000 job cuts in BT between 1992 and 1995 that were achieved using a combination of voluntary leaver packages, recruitment freezes, redeployment and re-skilling – including 29,300 in 1992 alone – the CWU has always been baffled as to why the comparatively tiny surplus that exists in Enterprise today cannot be dealt with in the same enlightened way.

But with perverse instances now arising where individuals who have positively opted for VR, having received calculations of their potential payouts, are being told they can’t go – therefore denying job opportunities for those who wish to stay – the union is rapidly reaching the conclusion that the current situation in Enterprise is ideologically motivated.

Those suspicions are being stoked by:

  • The continued failure of BT to provide the union with comprehensive information on growth areas in customer facing units across BT Group that could result in further redeployment opportunities being established
  • The fact that management is still refusing to rule out forced exits, and persisting with an approach that predicates a need for compulsory redundancies, even though a combination of VR applications and the redeployment opportunities already identified suggest the number of individuals for whom satisfactory outcomes have not yet been established is now below 50 and falling.

“I simply cannot accept that company the size of BT cannot manage a surplus situation this small without the need for compulsory redundancies – especially when it knows that pressing that button will set it on a direct collision course with the CWU,” insists CWU national officer for BT Enterprise Allan Eldred.

“My message to members is that the CWU is working flat out to try to find acceptable solutions for all those who have been placed ‘at risk’ –  but with every passing day it’s becoming clearer and clearer that the situation Enterprise has created is wholly unnecessary and, worse, one that seems to have been deliberately manufactured to test this union.”


Is BT spoiling for a fight?

Just over a week ago  a letter expressing the CWU’s “grave concern over the future of job security in BT” was emailed to the union’s entire BT membership.

Hitting out at the company’s apparent willingness  to “put in jeopardy 30 years of good industrial relations,” deputy general secretary Andy Kerr stressed the situation in Enterprise has to be viewed in the context of plans already announced by BT  to move from 300 to 30 locations in the coming years.

Pointing out that the current situation in Enterprise brings into sharp focus the problems that could lie ahead, Andy continued: “The CWU believes this move is cynically motivated and the start of a different stance taken by the company to restructure the business using the threat of compulsory redundancy.

“We have a policy, agreed at our annual Conference, that should there be one compulsory redundancy we’ll ballot for industrial action. Of course, industrial action is a last resort and we have always worked with the company to find solutions to challenges and ensure no loss of jobs .This time, however, the climate appears to have changed…and as a union we cannot allow this to happen.”

That message is reinforced in a specially produced CWU podcast that has just been released –  because, despite the fact that solutions are being found for more and more of the ‘at risk’ individuals (largely on account of the strenuous work being conducted by the CWU), the union simply doesn’t know whether BT will press the compulsory redundancy ‘button’ – something that could happen as early as January 13.

“If we managed to get the position down to ten or 12 individuals – which is looking increasingly possible – is the company still going to pursue this?” ponders Andy.

“At the moment the answer coming from the company is ‘yes’. The bean counters are back in BT and there’s a whole HR community that seems to be like David Walliams in ‘Computer Says No’ (in Little Britain).

“Is this a caring company or not? I’d still like to think it is, but with what’s coming from the top at the moment I’m not so sure that’s the case. That’s why we’ll not rule out industrial action. If we have to do it we will do it, and one thing’s for certain – if we do push that button it will be all out war.”