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Openreach Talks at "Critical" Phase

20 June 2015

Negotiations with Openreach over the company's controversial site rationalisation proposals are entering a "critical" phase. Four weeks after the current round of talks began - triggered by an emergency motion at CWU Annual Conference that ratified the union's negotiating position on company proposals that the CWU has branded "entirely unacceptable" - it is still unclear whether the company is prepared to budge sufficiently to stave off the risk of a full-scale industrial relations showdown.

The Conference motion, tabled in the name of the Telecoms & Financial Services Executive, threatens an immediate industrial action ballot if agreement cannot be reached as to how Openreach responds to the agreed 'key principles' which now must be followed whenever major site rationalisation proposals are being considered.

Those key principles were jointly agreed by CWU and BT Group negotiators on the eve of the union's Conference and ratified by the Telecoms & Financial Services Executive just before delegates participated in the major debate, which culminated in conference endorsing the industrial action threat by a huge majority.

The only dissent came from those who questioned whether the Executives emergency motion went far enough.

The nine key principles agreed by Conference insist that in any site rationalisation situations the CWU must be involved in the negotiation process from the outset, with the company having to clearly set out the rationale for what it is trying to do - something that abjectly did not happen with Openreach's inflammatory and, the union believes, hopelessly unrealistic proposals to concentrate all 'desk-based' functions at just 23 'Centres of Excellence' nationwide.

Unless the company compromises, some 6,000 CWU members stand to be directly affected by the reorganisation which would force a large number of those highly-skilled, experienced and long-serving staff to travel long distances each day. The CWU believes hundreds would also be forced to completely retrain and/or switch to lower-grade jobs within the company.

From the start the CWU has been adamant that additional sites will needed to be brought into the equation - and that position has been forcefully and repeatedly reiterated during the current round of talks.

Davie Bowman National officer for Openreach, Davie Bowman explains:

"Our discussions encompass utilising additional sites which can bring people together in locations with the aim of minimising the number of people who cannot work at, or travel to, an initially proposed site.

This is a critical period for the CWU as we seek to deliver an outcome which meets the terms of the agreed 'key principles' and also the CWU's policy that remains maintaining the highest number of highly-skilled and highly graded roles in as many locations as possible.

The discussions have been very challenging and the National Team has made it clear to the company that any outcome to the process must be achieved by strictly adhering to the agreed principles.

Over the coming days the national negotiating team and the union's SPOCs (Single Points of Contact) will be engaging with branches regarding the potential local impact of the discussions that are currently underway.

Feedback as to the acceptability or otherwise of some of the possible solutions presently under discussion will be the subject of a decisive debate at the CWU's Openreach Briefing Committee on June 11 2015, at CWU headquarters in Wimbledon.

This continues to be a period of great uncertainty for all of our members and it is important that the CWU at all levels supports individuals as required."