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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain


Broadband battles

by New Worker correspondent

THE Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) is facing yet another battle over compulsory redundancies in British Telecommunications (BT). In its Group Functions division, which employees 11,000 people, management are pushing ahead with compulsory redundancies instead of seeking volunteers in order to secure a tiny reduction of just 20 posts.

This is a normal strategy for BT, CWU assert. Earlier this year another BT division, BT Enterprise, did the same and it is also happening at BT Technology where 200 compulsory redundancies are in progress.

About a month ago CWU lodged a ‘formal disagreement’ over management abandoning long-standing collective agreements that in former years ensured a voluntary approach in many much larger job-reduction situations.

In the latest development, management have not only ignored the union’s complaint but added another three workers from the seven-strong Events Team who were rewarded for organising last month’s massive online Consumer Live event.

One of the surplus workers lamented: “It was really hard work, and all the time we were putting in really long hours to deliver that event the company must have known it was about to cut our jobs,” adding: “It’s just disgraceful the way they’ve treated us. The six people in our team have done a total of 189 years’ service for the company. We’re all in our fifties so what chance do we have of ever getting another job?”

The union also accused BT’s HR’s lack of understanding of its own policies. Some earmarked for redundancy were told that their misleadingly termed Voluntary Redundancies pay outs were capped at a maximum two years’ money, despite the policy stating that up to 12-weeks’ pay in lieu of notice also applies in most situations.

BT have refused to reconsider a long list of CWU counter-proposals that includes offering of voluntary redundancy (VR) packages, the repatriation of previously offshored work, and reductions in the use of agency staff and third-party contractors. The union has also demanded redeployment and reskilling, but all they have got is an extremely limited rollout of a “job swap” concept.

This means that those not earmarked for redundancy but wishing to leave BT can opt to take the place of a comparably graded “at risk” person with a similar skill-set who wishes to stay, but bosses have severely restricted eligibility.

To add insult to injury, bosses are not offering volunteers full redundancy terms, they are limiting payments to considerably lower voluntary paid leaver packages, without, as yet, even confirming what exactly those packages will be worth.

Off-shoring

Many of the jobs are going because of successive offshoring of work. At an online meeting one CWU member facing redundancy said they had been asked to train up an outside service provider that has been lined up to provide the function they currently conduct providing digital support for vulnerable members of the community.

CWU national officer Dave Jukes said that “the current leadership of a great company that for decades has been at the forefront of enlightened employment practice are currently behaving like a bunch of chancers”.

Elsewhere in the BT empire, in its Technology division, 200 workers who have been maintaining services as ‘key workers’ during the pandemic are just weeks away from redundancy and their P45s. Ironically, the news came at the same time as some senior managers received gongs in Queen’s Birthday Honours List for the role they played in maintaining the nation’s broadband access at the height of the coronavirus crisis.

Sally Bridge, CWU assistant secretary, points out that the desired number of redundancies could be painlessly addressed by voluntary means.

She added that: “Numerous counter-proposals put forward by the union’s Technology National Team have been rebuffed, and late last month – in an extraordinary act of bad faith – senior management pulled the rug on the final CWU proposal, which would undoubtedly have eradicated the need for wholesale compulsory redundancies, even as the ink was drying on a draft agreement between company and CWU negotiators.

“Like most companies, BT has had to change and adapt in these unprecedented times and, given the turmoil in the UK economy, with so many job losses in the news, it’s easy to lose sight of the real reasons why BT are making such radical change. The unpalatable truth, however, is that the upheavals we’re seeing in Technology were planned long before the global pandemic – and none are COVID-related.”

She stressed that the present redundancies were only a “phase one” and that the so-called ‘Transformation programme’ was a choice, not necessity, which led to a needless and shocking break with a decades-old approach to dealing with staff surpluses by voluntary means that has seen BT reduce its headcount by tens of thousands since privatisation without recourse to compulsory redundancy.

needless

The CWU suspects that imposing Compulsory Redundancies is “an initial and again totally needless ‘trophy execution’ simply to make a point” in order to keep workers in fear of losing their jobs.

CWU’s Technology National Team was told that there was no point in the union attempting to challenge the rationale of the decision because the D1 and C3 graded work – commanding salaries in the region of £40,000 in the UK – could be conducted for pay levels of just £5,000 in Bangalore. That’s capitalism for you, it makes perfect sense for the bosses, who are acting in the interests of the shareholders to do this.

“Further tranches of job losses are already known to be imminent – and that’s even before the full impact of the BT Group-wide ‘Better Workplace’ site rationalisation programme is truly felt,” she concluded.

This will mean the closure of hundreds of offices with 8,000 job losses and the remaining staff concentrated in six UK hubs.

with fire

Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr accused senior management of playing with fire. “The CWU will continue to do everything it can to fight against compulsory redundancies and the various other attacks members are experiencing in different lines of business – but, make no mistake, this is an attack on the job security and Ts&Cs of EVERYONE – and we must ALL stand together.”

He warned that: “Even if you’ve not been affected by any of the changes announced to-date, you need to appreciate that your job may no longer be safe in this brutal new environment.”

Poor old BT complain that they are hard up because of investment in high-speed broadband and that they are only attempting to standardise terms across the group. Workers should demand that the best, not the worst, should become the norm.