Unionised BT Technology workers vote for industrial action as more compulsory job cuts hit UK telco's IT crowd

Systems, networks staffers face round 2 as round 1 crew packs their cables

BT workers in the Technology division are keen on taking industrial action to oppose the multi-year and multi-billion pound cost cutting programme that CEO Philip Jansen inherited and has continued to run.

Paul Moore, the local branch officer at CWU, the communications union, told The Reg that 84 per cent of unionised members working at BT this week voted in favour of affirmative action in a consultative ballot.

The vote - put out to ballot last Thursday - was to "test the water" to determine the appetite among the workforce to strike or protest in other ways that are designed to disrupt the company's Technology unit, an area that employs circa 11,700 (3,300 outside the UK) to service BT's networks and systems.

The outcome of the ballot is not legally binding but is a clear objection from some workers to BT's proposals. It also signals that an actual ballot for industrial action seems inevitable.

BT is chopping some 13,000 workers between 2018 and 2021 as part of an ambition to reduce annual overheads by £1.5bn.

CWU said the ballot was "an internal one" and it is not releasing the figures of how many members at BT turned out to vote. We also asked how many BT Technology staff are members at CWU.

The consultative ballot pertains to 200 job losses in the division proposed by BT in July under Phase 1 of the so-called transformation agenda. The balott was seen by CWU as a “last ditch bid to prevent the first ever compulsory redundancies amongst team member grades in Technology becoming effective on 31 October.”

CWU said that “dozens” of team member grade staffers were earmarked for the chop and today looks to be their final day of service - therefore a consultative ballot seems to be coming late in the day for some.

Fresh cuts

However, just yesterday, some 112 CWU members [PDF] in the Technology unit were also earmarked for redundancy as part of a "Phase 2."

Affected staff operate in areas of BT's dynamic infrastructure including service platform, service management and IT.

"In an already febrile situation, the CWU has lambasted management's incendiary decision to place yet more employees at direct risk of compulsory redundancy when arguments are still raging about Phase 1," the union said.

A "particular bone of contention" for the union has been BT's refusal to adjust its strategy and offer voluntary redundancy. CWU said according to its own surveys, plenty of BT staff in Technology would be willing to leave with a payoff.

Last month BT got close to agreeing a job swap plan but pulled it at the last minute, CWU added. "Then, just days later, bosses plumbed the depths once again - announcing that User Access Management work in IT will be transferred offshore to India, directly leading to more compulsory redundancies in the UK."

CWU claimed that BT top brass had denied the offshoring - intended to save £620,000 - was part of Phase 2 of the programme, and instead described the job changes to the union as "business as usual."

"Now bosses have changed tack - insisting the offshoring is part of its 'Phase 2 Transformation' drive after all - but the decision still casts doubt over the corporate social responsibility of a company that is exporting jobs at a time of a burgeoning UK unemployment crisis."

A spokesman at CWU told us that the "next step is a full consultative ballot of every worker in BT Group, Openreach and EE - over 45,000 workers. We will release the results of that in full."

The Register has asked BT to comment.

Today, BT outlined financial results for the half-year of fiscal 2021 ended 30 September that show the cost-cutting efforts, which also include consolidating real estate, paid off… for shareholders.

Revenue for the six months fell 8 per cent to £10.59bn with declines seen across nearly all of the operating division with the exception of Openreach, which was fuelled by higher rental bases in fibre. Profit before tax was £1.06bn, down from £1.333bn a year earlier.

BT struck a positive chord with regard to its outlook by raising earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation to be £100m higher at between £7.3bn to £7.5bn. BT added it had saved £352m via the "modernisation programme" in the first six months of this fiscal year.®

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