CWU tenacity on Enterprise contractual howler delivers cash windfall for 72

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT

Image: Simon J Beer / shutterstock

Scores of Enterprise members in SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) Sales have received thousands of pounds in ‘ex-gratia’ payments from BT following the union’s successful challenging of a decade old blunder involving the miscalculation of contractual on target bonus (OTB) payments.

Under a settlement brokered by the union to right a historic wrong which has seen the 35% OTB stipulated in contracts of employment underpaid since 2010, more than 50 who joined the SME Desk in 2011 or earlier have just received compensatory payments of £10,000 each.

A further 20 have received payouts of £ 8,000, £6,000 or £4,000 – depending on whether they joined the SME team in 2012, 2013 or 2014 respectively. A further two employees who joined in 2015 and 2016 have received £2,000 each.

Despite the scale of the payouts, BT is still refusing to accept liability for what it refers to as ‘alleged detriments’ that began when Enterprise bosses claim to have entered into a ‘verbal agreement’ with the  Brentwood, Glasgow, Warrington and Belfast-based employees to convert their contractual entitlement to an OTB payment of 35% of salary into one based on the average OTB of all employees at the time.

James Samuels

No current SME colleagues who were working on the Desk in 2010 can recall any such conversation – let alone a ‘verbal agreement’ to fundamentally change their Ts&Cs which has progressively robbed those impacted by more and more bonus potential as wage levels have risen.

Astonishingly the mistake only came to light in the summer of 2020 when the correct 35% OTB payment was accidentally paid in what management described as an  ‘error’ by the  Hungary-based payments team!

Subsequent moves by the business to reclaim the alleged ‘overpayment’ shone a spotlight on the decade-old howler. Initially flagged up to CWU headquarters by branches on account of the repayment demand, the profound implications of management’s contractual misunderstanding was immediately spotted by CWU Enterprise national team member James Samuels.

“The company’s defence, that they had altered people’s pay by verbal agreement in 2010, was unprecedented and highly irregular – and to have done that without consulting the union is outrageous in itself,” the TFS Executive member stresses.

“But regardless of whether or not any such conversation ever occurred – and we do not believe it did – for years afterwards Enterprise continued to issue contracts to SME Desk recruits that specifically refer to a 35% OTB entitlement. As such, they really they didn’t have a leg to stand on!”

Following union advice, no fewer than 25 of the negatively impacted NewGRID contract SME members submitted formal grievances by the start of last year – and although those grievances were never heard they paved the way for the negotiations that have finally led to this month’s settlement.

Allan Eldred

CWU national officer for BT Enterprise, Allan Eldred, continues: “For much of last year management were in denial that anything had been done wrong. It was only when they realised they could end up in court with an even larger bill that things started to move, beginning  with an initial offer that the union immediately rejected as inadequate.”

Following intensive negotiations that offer was effectively doubled. Placed before members in a consultative ballot last October, it was accepted by 88.5% of those entitled to vote.

Allan concludes:  “Although it’s taken longer than we’d wanted for these payments to finally be made, the substantial sums involved are a complete vindication of the CWU’s determination to right a historic wrong.

“The 35% OTB has been restored for longer-serving SME Desk employees on NewGRID contracts, we’ve achieved substantial compensatory payments for those who missed out but have also managed to fully protect the interests of those on WF2020 contracts who benefitted from the averaged out payments.

“The latter group’s fixed OTB payments of £680 will continue unchanged until such a time when the 30% OTB cited in WF2020 contracts becomes more beneficial to them.

“Thanks to the unassailable strength of our case, and members’ willingness to stand up and be counted, we’ve achieved a great outcome for everyone involved.”