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19 August 2014
BT CWU members vote for strike action in latest consultation
By a CWU Telecoms member
At the last CWU conference, a debate saw delegates, based on their branch experiences and caseload, conclude that the national agreements in place on Performance Management were not working and that the process was still punitive, with managers not being reined in.
They opposed the Telecoms Executive who wanted the agreements to be given more time to work and demanded a strike ballot on the issue.
This came after the CWU had come within 'a whisker' of an industrial action ballot two times in the last three years. Delegates' patience, reflecting pressure from members and lay officers, had finally run out.
A motion demanded that if members did not see improvements by July, a move to ballot for industrial action would commence. The Executive responded by mailing out a "consultation" survey to all affected members across all BT groups. They asked three questions.
- 1. Have you noticed an improvement in how Performance Management is applied in your workplace?
- 2. Do you believe that the Agreement needs to be allowed more time to change the culture of Performance Management in BT?
- 3. Do you wish to be balloted now for strike action on Performance Management?
The mail-out was very much an appeal to give the Executive more time. Not dissimilar to material from BT HR and Employee Relations at work, members were implored to read the material and make a "very important" decision. Both the CWU and BT management were desperately hoping that members would 'see sense' as they implored yet more 'partnership'.
Based on their experiences, 80% of members had, for question 1, seen no improvement since the last survey in 2013. Then it had been that 93% had seen no improvement. So in one year, things had only improved for 13% - evidence, if any were needed, that the agreements have delivered little if any change on the shop floor.
Question 2 saw 61% of members wanting to give the existing agreements more time to improve the culture in BT.
Question 3, the big one, saw 57% desire a ballot for industrial action now.
The turnout was 28%.
Desire for action
Question 3, amongst those returning papers, saw the highest number of responses for and against than each of the other two. This showed that this question was, in members' minds, the most immediate and important one to them.
That 72% of members didn't return papers shows that rather than not concerned, they are tired of being surveyed, tired of working in an environment where nothing seems to change for the better. They didn't see the CWU as being serious enough to warrant their attention.
Given the woeful absence and outright unwillingness to embark on any serious campaigning nationally against Performance Management over the years by the union, it is a testimony to members' determination to fight that 57% who voted still demanded a ballot for action. It also vindicates the conference decision of branch delegates to oppose the Executive's position.
A sober analysis of the results shows that the picture is not contradictory at all. CWU members in BT want a successful industrial action ballot result that can be used in negotiations to get the boot off their throats. If BT refuses then members want to walk, to force the company's hand if necessary. This is the only action ultimately that BT understands and members know it.
Failings of Telecoms union leaders
Branch officers and reps have burgeoning casework files, a testimony to the successive failure of the CWU Telecoms Executive to defend members from the Performance Management regime.
In the branches there is a growing consensus that the CWU in BT, at a national level, is no more than a glorified Staff Association. A feeling driven no less where local branches have a good record of representing members in disciplinary meetings.
It is not uncommon now for overburdened branch officers to visit Head Office and come away wondering how clear the desks look there when compared to theirs back home.
BT senior managers have made the mistake of thinking that the people they see at negotiations actually reflect the workplace. This consultation ballot result is a wake-up call to both parties that both the employer's and CWU Executive's joint initiative to dissuade members from Industrial action has failed.
Confident campaign needed
The Executive should now be pressed by branches to initiate the industrial action ballot. With a confident campaign, the 72% who did not participate this time could be swung round. A successful vote for action could then be used in negotiations.
Branches need to convene members' meetings and initiate a campaign to oppose any further Executive inaction. Such a campaign is essential and the need immediate.
The mood is such in some workplaces that local management could spark unofficial action which could rapidly spread nationally, such is the discontent in some places.
However, this mood may not be universal, for example in some smaller or isolated workplaces where local managers may have been more pragmatic in implementing Performance Management.
Unofficial action always carries the risk that workers are left open to victimisation by a vicious national management and compliant CWU Executive once the action ceases.
At base is the future of the CWU in BT. If the union can't deliver on this issue then members will increasingly feel that maintaining membership is no longer worthwhile.
The union has to be reclaimed for members as part and parcel of the campaign to get the Executive to ballot for industrial action.
The CWU Executive now proposes more meetings with BT and yet another survey, this time alongside Prospect, the managers' union. This is not what members want, and it is not what conference voted for. It doesn't even fit in with the needs of Prospect members! Both CWU and Prospect members want action, want the boot taken off the throat, not death by survey.
The CWU Executive must initiate the ballot for industrial action over Performance Management now!
Appendix - Vote breakdown
Q1. 11,086 members answered the question. 2,205 (20%) said yes, 8,881 (80%) said no.
Q2. 11,149 members answered the question. 6,788 (61%) said yes, 4,361 (39%) said no.
Q3. 11,242 members answered the question. 6,374 (57%) said yes, 4,868 (39%) said no.
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