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‘No-one safe from compulsory redundancy’ as Openreach attacks desk based roles, warns CWU

‘No-one safe from compulsory redundancy’ as Openreach attacks desk based roles, warns CWU

The latest manifestation of the belligerent new management approach sweeping across BT Group has prompted CWU warnings of a looming bloodbath of desk-based members in Openreach.

Hot on the heels of compulsory redundancies  in Enterprise, a site rationalisation programme in Technology that looks set to displace hundreds with no obvious potential of redeployment and yesterday’s brutal attack on offline work in Consumer (see story here), today’s announcement  by Openreach of a new  ‘location strategy’ unleashes a full-frontal assault on the division’s desk-based workers nationwide.

Under the plan, which has been presented to the CWU as a fait accompli, without consultation, the desk-based work that is predominantly conducted in over 30 ‘Centres of Excellence’ across the country will be concentrated into just nine locations – most of which will be beyond reasonable travel for displaced members of staff. In addition several hundred work from other locations, in line with previous agreements with the CWU, and these individuals are also now being told that cannot continue,

“Be in no doubt; the scale of this plan will mean that members in all locations will be under threat of compulsory redundancy – and Openreach’s own FAQ’s confirm that,” stresses CWU assistant secretary Davie Bowman.

Pointing out that even the concentration of the work into the current 30-plus locations had been hugely problematic when it was instituted five years ago, the union’s national officer for Openreach continues: “Many will recall the debacle of the ‘Working Together’programme –  itself driven by dogma, not by pragmatism – that resulted in the setting up the Centres of Excellence after difficult and protracted negotiations, with those not able to travel also being catered for.

“ These new plans reduce that footprint from 30-plus to just nine locations – Belfast, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Ipswich, Leeds, Liverpool and Judd Street in London – with the majority of those displaced, we believe, unable to relocate to those locations based on any definition of ‘reasonable travel’.

“Don’t be fooled if you currently work in one of the named locations, because the function you currently carry out may not be planned to be in that location going forward.

“Similarly, members should not be lulled into a false sense of security by Openreach’s talk of a five-year ‘roadmap’ to the new location strategy. Somewhere will be the first to close, and anyone who happens to be normally based in that building will be affected much sooner.

Davie stresses: “What we’re experiencing right now is the same dogmatic attitude  which drove the Working Together fiasco, only worse, because it stems from the same fundamentalist and inflexible view as to  how desk-based work should be carried out.

“The CWU absolutely recognises that transformation is here to stay – and that automation and artificial intelligence will change how roles look and feel – but having everyone in such few locations does not assist that.”

Abject betrayal of key workers and UK Plc

Pointing out that the scrapping of more than two thirds of the current Centres of Excellence flies in the face of the core tenet of the hard-negotiated Working Together agreement with  Openreach – namely that those unable to travel to new locations would have their current work brought to them – Davie highlighted the added irony of the company taking its current stance in a period of COVID-19-enforced homeworking

“During the last three months almost of all of the circa 7,000 CWU represented grade employees in the desk-based roles affected by this location strategy  have been working from home – carrying out ‘essential work’  as ‘key workers’ – supporting their field colleagues in keeping the country connected,” he explains.

“This has been a lifeline across the whole of society throughout the pandemic, yet these same workers are now effectively being told that their efforts are no longer valued, their labours are no longer treasured and that their future is wholly uncertain.

“After a period of successful mass homeworking the needlessness of the company casting doubts over the future employment of those who cannot travel to new centralised locations is doubly exposed – even more so given Openreach CEO Clive Selley’s own statements in media interviews on the impact of coronavirus on working practices,” Davie continues.

“On April 8 Mr Selley was quoted in the Daily Mail, saying he thought the experience would ‘drive a level of permanent change’. In fact he went on to say that he ‘struggled to imagine that we will all get back on the 6.30am to Charing Cross each day’ continuing: ‘Maybe we won’t work from home all the time, but perhaps we will for part of the week. It will make people think about being more flexible. I am sure it will drive change in business ethics that will be long-lasting. The priority is not optimising profit, it is doing the right thing by the nation and your employees. These are higher motivations than making money.”

Davie adds: “It’s hard to square that statement with the implications of Openreach’s inflexibility over anyone conducting desk-based work having  to travel to one of nine locations.

“And when you consider that  desk=based roles are also being attacked on the grading front – something that is reflected in the choice of locations where they will need to bring in  new recruits on new contracts and different pay points – it’s hard to see any high-minded aspirations to “do the right thing for the nation” in Openreach’s current actions.

“In practice, the agenda that Openreach seems set on pursing is one of displacing a substantial  number of loyal employees who are helping to build the UK’s fibre network for the future – and either replacing them on the cheap with a new generation of UK workers on poorer terms and conditions,  or potentially transferring the work offshore.

“How’s that for corporate social responsibility when it’s becoming abundantly clear that the UK economy will need every decent job that can possibly survive the coronavirus pandemic!”

Davie concludes: “Right across BT attacks are taking place on pay, grading, resourcing and now locations – tellingly at a time when the business is also moving to attack redundancy terms.

“Members across BT Group should be aware that no-one is safe, regardless of their role, because the attitude of their employer has fundamentally changed.

“Compulsory redundancy should never be an inevitability based on location. This is a cold business choice that the company has taken and it must and will be resisted by the CWU with all the effort and resources this will take.”

Posted: 25th June 2020

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