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BT and Communication Workers Union draw up 'principles' to guide future planning on pay and redundancies

Threat of national industrial ballot in May forced telco back around negotiating table

BT says it has reached an agreement with the Communication Workers Union (CWU) over disputes concerning pay and redundancy - and in doing so looks to have averted the union's threat of running a national ballot for strike action.

On 12 May, on the eve of the scheduled national ballot, BT agreed to pause all compulsory job losses under its multi-year company transformation programme, one that involves expunging 13,000 employees and dumping 90 per cent of its real estate, among other measures, to reduce annual operating costs by £1.5bn.

In such an all-encompassing initiative, BT's closure of sites and reduction in headcount sufficiently annoyed unionised employees, who tried to make their voices heard though the CWU's Count Me In Campaign.

BT said today it and the union had "reached an agreement on how the company will push ahead with its modernisation plans over the coming years." It has adopted a "new set of principles, covering areas such as pay and redundancy."

In terms of pay, BT will implement a rise for team members in the UK that will be awarded in 2022. The devil will be in the detail and that is to be "determined nearer the time" and will be based on factors including financial results, economic outlook and inflation.

The timing and location of some of the site closures is to be reviewed, BT aded, and over the following 12 months the telco will shutter building where staff can relocate to an alternative location. This was another bone of contention. BT previously said in many of its sites it has only a handful of employees.

“We’ve drawn up a set of principles which will guide our future planning and we’ll continue to talk to the union as we develop the plan. There are no changes to locations and sites previously announced,” BT said.

As for redundancies, BT said it is going to try to push the ejection seat button less regularly - though that will come too late for the thousands that have left since the change plan was enacted in 2018.

The company said:

Once our proposed modernisation programme is complete, we’ll be a leaner, simpler and more organisation. As much as possible, this will be achieved through natural attrition as around 10,000 colleagues choose to leave BT a year. In areas where we may need to look at reducing roles, we’ve made a commitment to consider steps to avoid compulsory redundancy where we reasonably can.

BT also said it has committed to finding volunteers to willingly leap rather than be pushed, and said it will also try to help staff retrain and move to other parts of the organisation.

“As we implement our plans to build a better BT for the future, how we get there is every bit as important as the detail of our plans,” it added.

Revenue at BT has been shrinking from as far back as 2017, standing at £21.3bn in 2021. Pre-tax profit has fallen since fiscal 2016. The modernisation programme is designed to lift the business, at least in the mids of BT top brass.

The CWU has issued a statement to members, seen by The Reg, saying it has “endorsed the agreement” with BT and will establish a programmes of communications to engage BT workers on the settlement in the coming weeks.

“The agreement represents a huge turnaround from where we were 18 months ago, and I want to be absolutely clear - this is because of the Count Me In Campaign and the outstanding support we have received from our branches and members,” said Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary for telecoms and financial services.

Kerr said the CWU was told by BT 18 months ago that there was no money in the negotiating pot for pay, before it stumped up £1,000 earlier this year amid the Count Me In campaign.

“We do not agree that this is enough but through these negotiations, it has been clear that pay is a major issue for the employer. Despite this, we have agreed a plan for simplifying and resolving currently unagreed pay points, which will benefit a significant number of CWU members, and we have also secured a commitment to a consolidated pay rise for all CWU Represented Grades in April 2022.”

On job losses, the CWU rep said he expects “proper consultation and engagement”.

“This agreement will increase job security, secure UK based roles, implement fairer grading and pay structures, see the opportunity for upskilling and see the union become a powerful stakeholder rather than an observer to BT’s plans,” Kerr claimed.

He signed off by saying: “The employer’s strategy is a long term one and that will mean this agreement is a living and breathing document. With this in mind, we will continue to engage members throughout the coming months on any progress (or otherwise) we make with the company. It is crucial that despite reaching agreement, we maintain the pressure and momentum that we achieved with the Count Me In campaign. It is this approach which has shifted BT Group.” ®

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