It's good to talk: Union says IBM failed to consult system support techies as Scottish Power contract nears end

TUPE or not TUPE? That is the question. Unison calls on lawyers ahead of 30 June D-Day

IBMers who provide tech services to ScottishPower have voted "overwhelmingly" for industrial action in a consultative ballot over deepening uncertainty surrounding their jobs.

Unison, which represents unionised members, said Big Blue told 65 staff in October that their roles "would end on 30 June, 2020."

A spokesman at ScottishPower confirmed this to The Register today, telling us it is now in "the final months of a 10-year service contract with IBM.

"Last year ScottishPower gave notice to IBM of the end of the contract allowing them to notify their employees and offer them other opportunities. It is IBM's responsibility to discuss this issue with their employees and trade unions."

Gerry Crawley, regional officer at Unison, told us that almost three months after IBM warned staff of the agreement, they remain in the dark. "ScottishPower terminated the contract and that is their right but IBM is failing to consult with the trade union."

He said IBM had "not informed or consulted on whether there will be a TUPE transfer or redundancy. We don't know what it is going to be. Three months later. Frankly, that is astonishing."

"We don't do consultative ballots lightly," he added. "We are not punishing ScottishPower, it is IBM's failure to consult." Impacted IBM people are facing an "uncertain future," Crawley continued.

Ninety per cent of the 65 employees voted in favour of "strike action". The next stage will see it hold an official ballot for industrial action, "which has the potential to bring Scottish Power's IT system to a standstill."

Unison recommends those employees decide to back a strike, and said it is "pursuing legal action against IBM on failure to consult on TUPE regulations."

IBM's contract with Scottish Power is for IT systems support, including the Critical National Infrastructure. This is only supposed to be supported in the UK – ie, not managed offshore.

This is the latest turn in the two-decade outsourcing agreement that was first performed by a joint venture in 2000 between Scottish Power and US firm SAIC, which the pair named Calanais. The following year, SAIC took sole control of the JV until 2010, when Accenture took over, and it was then replaced relatively shortly after by IBM. Each time, staff were protected by TUPE.

An IBM employee affected by the changes, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, said 10 years ago some 450 people serviced the account. The source said staff had expected to be transferred to another "global supplier", though other plans (*cough* cloud) could be afoot.

ScottishPower has yet to confirm its plan.

Those caught up in the "mess" include 49 people working at IBM's East Kilbride office in southwest Scotland, and some 16 in Cheshire, England. Most have worked on the contract since it began 20 year ago, according to Unison.

Big Blue told The Register: "IBM is committed to ensuring its ongoing compliance with all applicable legal consultation obligations." ®

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