Ever since the Government notified 1.8 million people that they should isolate themselves at home to protect themselves from coronavirus, the CWU has been pressurising BT to address a glaring inconsistency in its guidance to staff that left those who are not ‘extremely vulnerable’ themselves, but who live with loved-ones who are, with an agonising dilemma.
While the company moved with commendable speed to ensure that all employees positively identified as being ‘extremely vulnerable’ to Covid 19 have been either set up for homeworking or granted paid special leave, public health guidance issued by Ministers made no provision for healthy individuals living with an ‘extremely vulnerable’ person.
Despite CWU pleas for both groups to be treated similarly, BT initially insisted it was simply applying the Government guidelines and that anyone living with a super-vulnerable person for whom homeworking wasn’t a viable option should continue to come to work and take extra care to follow social distancing and hand washing guidance.
However, following further CWU representations to the company – providing poignant examples of the anguish being caused to those who feel they are taking a daily gamble of contracting a virus that could represent a death sentence to ‘extremely vulnerable’ loved ones – the problem initially appeared to have been resolved when BT Group performed a very welcome about-turn.
New guidance agreed with the union just before the Bank Holiday weekend categorically stipulated that “any BT colleague who is unable to attend their normal place of work without creating undue risk for someone they live with should also stay at home and self-isolate.
“We’ll support you,” the statement continues, “by continuing to pay you in full for the days that you need to stay at home during the shielding period (as defined in official guidance)” and “not counting this time as sick leave.”
Yet over the Bank Holiday weekend the situation descended into confusion after employees were issued with different and completely contradictory guidelines which comprehensively undermined the spirit of that agreement.
Throughout the course of last week, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr and assistant secretary Dave Jukes had a series of emergency conference calls with BT Group in which they robustly challenged the company’s backtracking – pointing out that the inexplicable about-turn had returned a number of Openreach to the invidious situation they had been in prior to the earlier apparent breakthrough.
Welcoming BT Group’s significant policy shift, CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes said: “This is an important step forward, and one that the CWU has championed vociferously because, despite the huge strides made across BT Group to set up as many people as possible for homeworking, that simply isn’t possible for everyone – including, of course, field engineers in Openreach.
“Two of the cases most recently flagged up to the company involved just such members – both of whom have children with serious underlying health issues – but other cases flagged up previously involved members with elderly and infirm live-in relatives who had also been identified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ by the health authorities.”
Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr concludes: “It’s hard to imagine the relief that these members must be feeling today on account of BT’s belated recognition thatGovernment guidelines can sometimes fail to cover all eventualities.
“I’d like to thank all the branches that escalated the examples to headquarters that enabled the CWU to persuade the company to change its mind and bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.”