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Is BT Adopting A Union-Busting Stance And Undermining CWU Representation?

The Health & Safety consultation framework involving the CWU ad BT at national level has been diminished for some time in the view of many within the Union's health and safety community, and therefore the news that the company is intending to set up direct employee representation machinery, outside of the existing structures involving the Union; may come as no surprise in the current climate within the company, and following the acquisition of BT's former telecoms competitor in the mobile phone arena.

One of the main tactics of American Union-busting consultants, is to advise companies to by-pass any collective bargaining structures they can do, and implement direct employee/employer bodies, of which a ‘Colleague Board’ could be considered as an ideal approach.

With the impending leaving of the EU and the subsequent alignment of business standards and practices to that of the USA in order to ensure as quick as possible UK/US trade deal, workers are likely to see more of this tactic, as companies try to re-align their industrial stategies away from EU standards and practises.

In many UK companies, especially in the banking sector, ‘Staff Associations’ set up in order to keep Trade Unions out and to coerce workers into not forming a Trade Union. Most of these tend to be staffed by managers and as far as the employees are concerned, serve the needs of the company rather than that of the employees.

Employee relations in BT have somewhat hit troubled waters ever since the company bought EE and started to implement some of their HR practices. Indeed, EE were always seen as one of the most anti-Trade Union companies in the UK, as far as the employees were concerned. reading through this year's CWU conferece agenda, gives examples of the new environment with regard to employee relations.

This website has previously reported on the introduction of disciplinary action within BT's Health & Safety policy of it's Global division, seen as a backwards step, inherent in it's use of American terminology making it look like a lift from the H&S annals of Dupont.

Now BT has decided to initiate a ‘Colleagues Board’, much to the concern of the employee’s Trade Union; the CWU.

In response the Union has requested assurances from BT that the decision will not ‘impact in any way on the company’s current relationship and communication flows with employees’ democratically elected union representatives’
The background to this and the response of the CWU was reported to the Union’s T&FS Branches this week:

On Monday the business announced it was seeking nominations from 11 employees from across the business (including BT, EE, Plusnet and Openreach) to make up the body which is due to meet four times a year, starting in January 2020.

BT claims that the Colleague Board is designed to “build a clear and strong bridge between colleagues and the most senior leaders in the business, allowing colleagues to raise issues that matter through the board” – but the CWU remains unconvinced there is a need for such a body.

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr explains: “It’s our view that BT already does this through the existing structured and constructive relationships with its recognised trade unions – namely the CWU and Prospect.

“I’ve therefore written to the business to inform them that, although the CWU is not opposing the creation of a ‘Colleague Board’ we cannot be supportive at this time, and feel it is unnecessary.”

While the union is currently of the view that the development is a harmless exercise in corporate governance – albeit one of questionable value – specific clarification has been sought by the CWU to establish beyond doubt that:

  • Nothing in the announcement changes, dilutes of diminishes BT Group’s relationship with the CWU
  • The Colleague Board will never be used as the vehicle for the company to exercise its obligations in relation to any statutory consultation

Andy continued:

“We’re also seeking details on how the company plans to deal with any matter which is tabled, or brought up by a colleague board member, which inadvertently strays into an area or subject matter proper to collective bargaining with the CWU.

As things stand, I’m confident that BT won’t have an issue giving us the assurances we are seeking – and, in which case, the CWU’s position on the Colleague Board will essentially be one of ambivalence. Members and branches can rest assured, however, that we are monitoring this closely and will respond robustly if required.”

Source: CWU / unionsafety / BT

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