Members of the CWU post and telecom union in BT Openreach are being consulted again on a set of attendance pattern changes they have already rejected.
A narrow no vote (56%) in a consultative ballot only last month rejected a deal on attendance patterns despite the hard sell from the CWU Executive, and intense lobbying on a one-to-one basis by BT managers. Despite this the Telecoms Executive has called another ballot on exactly the same changes, but with phased implementation. It's a case of keep voting until we get the right result.
Openreach engineers are disgusted with the lack of leadership and cynical undemocratic manoeuvring by the "Effective Left" (sic) majority on the Executive.
This roots of this fiasco go back earlier this year when CWU telecoms representatives met with BT Openreach management to discuss a package of changes to attendance patterns, work practices and future job security for over 25,000 staff working in BT Openreach - those providing the service from the exchange to the home, overwhelmingly engineering grades.
The most controversial of the proposed changes was on attendance patterns, where members were expected to be rostered to work Saturdays and evenings (up until 9pm and flexed beyond this) on flat money. There were also other changes, including a mobility clause that meant members could be asked to work away from home at one week's notice.
Currently those who accepted money to move to Monday- Saturday working in the 1990s (the Customer Service Improvement Plan) and those recruited since 2000 on the so called 'Martini' contract (any time, any place anywhere...) are working Saturdays as a normal day. But over 50% of current staff are still entitled to premium payment for Saturday, and all staff are entitled to chose to do overtime for work past 19.30pm.
The proposed changes are unpopular in all areas of the country, including those where there are a large number of newly recruited staff.
There is great strength of feeling on this issue, with staff observing that BT's commitment to family-friendly policies and work-life balance looks a bit thin. Though there is provision for P&D arrangements (Personal & Domestic) these are already hard to get, with management operating an unacknowledged cap on these. With a greater span of hours and days covered, those with caring responsibilities will face an uphill task in balancing work and responsibilities at home.
At CWU Conference in June a package of measures including the proposed attendance patterns was comprehensively thrown out by the Telecoms Industry conference. The union's Telecoms Executive went back into negotiations in indecent haste and came up with an new agreed set of proposals with minor changes (such as a reduction of one hour to the flex times). This was then the subject of the ballot in August.
Broad Left members of the Telecoms Executive opposed the proposals and urged members to reject them in the ballot. Despite the present marginalisation of the Broad Left within the bureaucracy of the CWU, their campaign was successful. The Broad Left are also urging a No vote in the current ballot which is likely to be conducted electronically because of the postal dispute.
Both in the August ballot and at the June Conference the Telecoms Executive made great play of assurances from Openreach management that they would drop plans to outsource pro-active work (between 8,000 and 13,000 of all current Openreach jobs) if the attendance pattern changes were approved. There is no long term logical connection between these issues, though this would meet the demand of the management for cost savings for work in house in the short term. In the long term it would mean staff were cheaper to TUPE out.
Also as the benchmark for the whole industry, the reduction of terms and conditions for BT Openreach staff would lead to lower pay and worse conditions for all telecoms engineers.
The BT board has previously considered outsourcing some of BT Openreach's work and may well do so again sometime in the future. Ironically the availability of Government subsidy to build the Next Generation Access through the levy on fixed lines means that this issue is a live one. The question is whether BT would get the contract to do this, or another firm or consortium would do. This in turn would affect the most profitable outcomes for BT, including outsourcing possibilities.
The "Effective" Left (a split from the Communications Workers Broad Left at the time of the last Deputy General Secretary Telecoms election) has led the negotiations with management. This current situation is a new low in the company unionism that has always been a feature of the POEU, then NCU and now CWU telecoms side.
Whilst this telecoms tradition has often been industrially pragmatic there had always been a commitment to democracy from the days of the POEU and resistance to the old right wing. This seems now to have been abandoned.
The Effective Left has been playing a divisive strategy with the Openreach membership. They have set members rostered to work Saturdays against those who are not. They have set members on reactive work - those who respond to customer faults - against those on pro active work, who are in more danger of outsourcing.
Union policy is to oppose outsourcing and to call industrial action if BT attempt to do this. This is the proper response to BT Openreach management's threats, not giving in. We need to unite the membership against the threat to their terms and conditions and resist management and official Union propaganda. Vote no. It's the first step to rebuilding a fighting union that respects democracy.