Talks resume with Openreach as RPEs notch up 15 days of strike action
Telecoms & Financial Services, Openreach April 23 2021
A solid week of industrial action is today (Friday) drawing to a close in Openreach, with the CWU’s small but fiercely loyal membership of repayment project engineers (RPEs) more determined than ever to maintain their battle against the company’s imposed regrading of their role.
Every day since Monday the 170-strong group have maintained highly visible pickets outside Openreach workplaces the length and breadth of the country over the company’s refusal to engage with the union over legitimate concerns that the move creates a dangerous mismatch of responsibilities.
Not since the 1987 national strike has any group of workers anywhere in BT Group felt compelled to make such a decisive stand against management intransigence and belligerence.
And if management had been assuming that RPEs fighting spirit would be starting to wane as the 15th day of RPE industrial action draws to its conclusion, they will have been sorely disappointed!
Indeed, if anything, this week’s five consecutive days of strike action has been marked by spiralling high spirits and an increasing determination to prevail. (See below). That mood no doubt influenced the company’s surprise decision earlier this week to resume talks with the union after weeks of stonewalling the CWU calls for meaningful talks.
This afternoon, the union’s Openreach national team had the first of three specially convened meetings with Openreach managing director for strategic infrastructure development , Kim Mears, with a further two meetings scheduled for the early part of next week.
Whether those meetings will provide the basis of a breakthrough that could end an unusually binary dispute remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that Openreach’s pig-headed refusal, to date, to listen to the legitimate concerns of RPEs – who are adamant the regrading detracts from their ability to act as ‘honest brokers’ in complex negotiations with third party organisations – is now causing the company serious embarrassment.
With Openreach now firefighting significant backlogs and growing customer anger over delays to cost-sensitive multi-agency projects, it is becoming harder by the minute for management to maintain its official line is that the industrial action has had little or no impact at all!
Meanwhile, political pressure on the company is now mounting fast, with this week’s picket lines receiving a steady stream of solitarily visits from MPs, Welsh Assembly Members and the leader of Trafford Council, Andrew Western, who turned out to support striking RPEs in Manchester.
“Let’s be absolutely clear, it’s only because of what you guys are doing that the company has finally deemed to come back to the table,” CWU national officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman, stressed in a special online solidarity session with RPEs this morning.
“The camaraderie you have shown each other has been nothing short of fantastic (see below) – and whatever happens in the next few days and weeks be absolutely sure that the CWU has your back and that every effort is being made at every level to resolve this dispute.”
Solidarity – and cake – as RPEs come together as one
One of the most heart-warming things about the current RPE dispute is the way in which an already tight-knit group of members have come together as ‘family’.
Arguably the most powerful demonstration of that this week was a touching show of solidarity shown by striking Newport RPEs with a solitary colleague in Stoke who’s been maintaining a picket in front of his Hanley workplace all on his own.
In recognition of Jonathan Potts’ stoical single-handed stand, the Newport gang have dedicated their own action this week to him – making every day a special ‘Jonathan Potts Day’, celebrated with a series of special high spirited videos featuring the somewhat unconvincing likenesses of Gareth Bale, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Winston Churchill!
“Never in a field of industrial action has so much been owed by so many to so few,” enthused the latter – and on Wednesday the Newport RPEs took their solidarity to a new level – driving more almost 150 miles to present the Hanley-one with a cake!
Jonathan, for his part, returned the favour – treating the Newport delegation to a full English breakfast, served with the Stoke regional speciality of oatcakes.
Admitting the visit had really helped bolster his spirits, Jonathan’s message of thanks was simple but heartfelt. “I’d just like to say the Newport guys are a brilliant bunch of lads. They’ve really kept everyone’s spirits up with the banter and videos, and that means a lot – especially for someone like me who’s basically doing this alone. It really brings it home that we’re one big family,” he concludes.