Victory for CWU as new Patch Lead role provides step-up for 904

Telecoms & Financial Services

Sustained CWU pressure on Openreach to create an all-new role that sits between the positions of senior engineer and Patch Manager has come to fruition – providing valuable opportunities for career progression across the country.

The 904 new ‘Patch Lead’ positions have long been championed by the CWU’s Openreach National Team, with the union arguing that a new team-member grade sitting just below the lowest rung of management would build on the valuable peer-to-peer support already provided by senior engineers.

And, like the senior engineer role – itself only launched in 2018 following concerted pressure from the CWU for the reinforcement of a positive workplace culture of engineers being able to seek advice and help from a trusted colleague – the new Patch Lead role goes some way further to address a chronic lack of opportunities for promotion across much of the business.

National officer for Openreach Davie Bowman explains: “Coming on top of the recruitment last year of more than a thousand senior engineers, the introduction of the new Patch Lead role represents the next step in the CWU’s longstanding aim of tackling the promotion ‘wastelands’ that have long afflicted B2 field engineers across much of the UK.”

“After concerted CWU lobbying, the company finally agreed to make the Patch Lead role a team member grade rather than putting it within the People Framework management grading system – something the company had seriously considered.

“That was a huge victory for the CWU because it reinforces the team-based ethos towards performance and skills that the CWU has worked so hard to establish in Openreach.

“Had these 904 new roles been within the management structure I very much doubt whether very many of our members would have applied – not least because they would have to forgo all the good stuff that comes with being a team member. “Managers, after all, aren’t covered by CWU-negotiated pay deals or the agreements the union has negotiated over the years on things like job security, pay and pension protection and the new Hybrid pension scheme.”

Once the current recruitment drive is complete there will be one Patch Lead dedicated to every sub-team of 15 engineers in the overall team of 45 (48 including the new Patch Leads). There will also continue to be two senior engineers who work across the whole team.

Priority for the new roles was initially given to senior engineers and those directly impacted by the implementation of Patch Leads – including OMAs and Coaches, with special protections negotiated by the CWU for anyone within the two latter groups who chose not to apply.

The current recruitment phase, however, is focussed on the wider engineering community, and the projected 266 B2 and TMNE2 grade employees ultimately appointed to Patch Lead positions will be the biggest gainers in terms of the salary hike they will achieve.

Davie stresses: “Discussions are continuing as to what the final wage rate will be – because although the businesses’ initial assessment of the role is that it sits within the TMNE3 grading, with a pay point of £33,702 plus an OTB of 10 per cent, this has categorically not been agreed by the CWU.

“Following Openreach’s subsequent  acceptance that the grade and salary will be determined by the agreed NewGRID assessment process, if we manage to secure more money when our current talks have reached their conclusion, we are seeking to ensure that all those appointed to Patch Lead positions will have the difference backdated to the date of their appointment.”

Davie concludes: “All in all, the Openreach National Team is very proud of what we’ve managed to achieve – because we set out with an objective to create this role and have secured what we wanted in such a way that most benefits our members and, crucially, reinforces the team-based ethos.”


CWU success story with a human face

An early beneficiary of the rollout of Patch Lead roles across the country is South London based customer service engineer Jonathan Young.

Jonathan’s recent experience bears testament to the success of the CWU’s efforts to open up career progression opportunities that have hitherto been distinctly limited in Openreach, as his latest promotion this July followed an earlier step up to the role of Senior Engineer last April.

“I think it’s great that the CWU pressed for these roles, because you get to a point where career progression is important, but people in the field enjoy engineering and they don’t necessarily want to apply for a promotion that puts them in an office.

“It may be higher grade, but it’s just not for them, and also they may not want to go down the management route, so people were stuck in a little bubble.

“Less than two years ago this type of career progression opportunity just wasn’t there – but now there are an extra two clear steps you can make before you either go into another line of business or chose to go into management.”

Pointing out that it is even possible to leapfrog the Senior Engineer role altogether, Jonathan, who is the CWU’s young workers officer for South London, Surrey & North Hampshire branch  concludes: “Having  been a customer service engineer for nearly 11 years with no promotion, having two in less than 18 months is really good news – as is the fact that the union is negotiating the final grade and pay for the role.

“In some respects it’s a bit strange going into a new role not specifically knowing what your grade will be, but it’s great to know the CWU is negotiating on our behalf for better than what the company has already proposed.”