The CWU has expressed its shock and dismay at BT’s unilateral move to ‘review’ redundancy and paid leaver terms by serving notice on the 2018 Pension Agreement.
That hard-negotiated deal – which led to the establishment of new pension arrangements across BT Group in the wake of the closure of the defined benefit BT Pension Scheme (BTPS) for future accrual – contains a legally binding annexe, included at the insistence of the union, that sets out the company’s responsibilities to team member grade employees in any redundancy situation.
By BT’s own admission it is that element of the 2018 Pension Agreement alone that it now wishes to change – yet, while it could have initiated talks with the CWU with a view to securing an agreed way forward on that narrow but important issue, it has now chosen to serve notice on the entire legally binding pension agreement.
The deeply concerning development was communicated to employees across BT Group this morning (Friday), somewhat disingenuously framed as a move to ‘simplify’ redundancy and paid leaver terms across the business to ‘create consistent terms for all colleagues’.
In actuality, the motive is to reduce contractual redundancy terms that can currently provide for payouts of up to two year’s pay plus up to 12 weeks pay in lieu of notice in compulsory redundancy situations.
Tellingly, the move was announced just as the first compulsory redundancies ever to have been made amongst team member trades in BT Group are about to come into effect in BT Enterprise.
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “This news will certainly send shockwaves across our membership – particularly in the wake of other unagreed changes to future terms and conditions, compulsory redundancies in Enterprise and the Better Workforce site closure programme.
“This is a unilateral and provocative move by the company, and there’s no doubt in my mind that BT is moving to reduce redundancy terms for our members.
“BT states that the business will ‘change shape over the next five years, requiring new skills for the future’ – but they also make the cynical point that ‘not everyone will want to or be able to make that journey’, and that accordingly they’ll ‘help them move on’!”
Significantly, the redundancy annexe to the pension agreement that will now expire at the end of May 2021 commits BT to work jointly with the CWU to resolve staff surpluses through a combination of redeployment, insourcing of previously off-shored or contracted out work, contractor and agency displacement and the offering of enhanced voluntary leaver packages before any actual redundancy proposals can formalised.
Andy continues: “The union now has no option but to enter consultation with BT Group over the issue of redundancy terms, but we’ve already made the point very forcefully that there was absolutely no need to for the company to serve notice on the entire 2018 Pension Agreement to achieve this end.
“BT state that there will be no impact on pensions – but the truth is that, if we cannot agree changes to the section dealing with redundancies, BT could, in theory, walk away from the 2018 agreement with just 60 days notice once the notice period it has just invoked expires in a year’s time.
“Whatever the upshot of our forthcoming discussions we now need a new legally binding agreement on pensions – and if BT means what it says about not wanting to change pensions this shouldn’t be a problem for the company to agree to.”
Andy stresses that, either way, no changes to redundancy/ paid leaver terms can take effect earlier than May 28, 2021 – unless another date is agreed with the CWU.
He concludes: “The CWU will continue to fight for job security and will be insisting on new contractual redundancy terms and a new legally binding pension agreement.
“It’s clear from recent developments that BT is attacking our hard won terms and conditions on multiple fronts. There’s never been a more important time to be in the CWU. We will stand together to protect job security in BT.”
Members and branches will be updated as discussions progress.