Latest News

news icon

Openreach Service Recovery Plan

13 February 2011

The Executive team has been in almost continuous dialogue on a range of issues and measures through which Openreach can fulfil its Service Recovery plan and alleviate/remove the huge burden shouldered by members.

The firm view of the Executive team is that not only does Openreach need to be able to manage its workstack by direct labour, more importantly; it must ensure that recovery is sustainable in the longer term. In the CWU’s view the long-term recovery will only be achievable through significant permanent recruitment which will obviate the need for the levels of contractual, or for that matter voluntary, overtime.

Need for Permanent Recruitment

Openreach, and the BT Group, were reluctant to fully embrace the CWU’s point of view, fearing the current provision volumes would not continue. It is becoming abundantly clear that what was regarded as a peak is in fact a fairly sizeable and enduring plateau.

Demand on both provision and repair remains high. Overall, the average for provision volumes is 24% above budget. This is primarily driven orders for WLR and MPF. Added to this, the snow impacted on the previous forecasted recovery plan. To augment the Volume workforce – currently 9700 CSEs – 200 engineers from Network Investment will be utilised (93 from North who have moved and a further 107 from South).

This has reinforced the Executive’s view that there needs to be permanent recruitment and we continue to make this argument in the ongoing negotiations with Openreach.

Effects of Pension Easement and Retirement

In addition to this, no-one quite knows how many members may decide to leave BT in advance of the pension easement window closing in March 2012. The CWU believes this may be a significant number and this needs to be anticipated and planned for in terms of resource/skill balance. In part, the previously announced recruitment of apprentices could be the solution.

Another factor in the resourcing issue is the anticipated abolition of the default retirement age. The CWU has urged Openreach to retain members arriving at 65 prior to the formal removal of the default retirement age. Given the current resource deficit, it would be folly to lose valuable skills in the short term.

Short-Term Agency Deployment

Openreach have signed a contract with two companies, Quinn’s and Kelly’s, to provide 250 trained engineers for up to six months maximum. These engineers did provision work previously for Virgin Media. We have sought and obtained strong assurances from Openreach that the use of these companies is a short term expedient.

They are not currently being deployed in the North Anglia area, but this will be the subject of further discussion with Openreach.

The CWU has continued to press the case for permanent recruitment but if there is a case for short term resource then the CWU’s preferred option are fixed term contracts. At present, the current make-up of this additional resource of around 1100 is heavily slanted towards agency. The team has followed the clear resolve of Branches to change this through the negotiations.

Summary of Meeting with John Small and Clive Gunby, 27 January 2011

At the meeting eight points were addressed.

  1. In response to the CWU’s concern on the use of agency, Openreach has agreed to rebalance in favour of fixed term contracts. This will mean an increase from 350 to 810. To avoid any misunderstanding, this resource is a short term expedient unless permanently recruited by BT.
  2. The CWU team has argued strenuously against the further use of contractual overtime. The amount quoted as necessary by Openreach is, the CWU has argued, excessive (COT ). Openreach risks the burnout of the workforce which is unacceptable. The assurance that there will be a moratorium on the use of COT is welcome but we believe the period is too short. It is obvious, in our view, that to avoid further use of COT permanent recruitment is required.
  3. The CWU has gained a commitment hat there will be permanent recruitment, where there is no suitable BT surplus labour, albeit at this stage in selected locations. The CWU regards the numbers of fixed term contracts and agency as an obvious indicator of the capacity gaps and we continue to press for more external recruitment as well as looking at redeployees and those on Pay and Pension Protection in other lines of business.
  4. The CWU team has expressed serious misgivings on the introduction of a team based performance incentive scheme, albeit initially for four months. No detail of this has been shared, if indeed it exists at present.
  5. Openreach confirmed that the use of agency and third party labour in Volume Field Force is a short term expedient stating strong preference to use direct labour. They also confirmed the intention to reduce the high levels of overtime currently being worked once there is a longer term strategic resourcing fix. In negotiation it will be the Executive’s aim to ensure the commitment is enacted in practice.
  6. Openreach says they will continue to use where appropriate BT Group and LoBs’ surplus; this includes the planned transfer of 300 BT Operate engineers. The CWU Openreach team is sceptical about whether this will actually happen. If it does not, then we will expect this to be balanced by further permanent recruitment.
  7. The CWU has raised several concerns that the push for productivity and slavish adherence to ECBT is driving down the quality of workmanship. Openreach does accept that a rushed job followed by a repeat visit does nothing for productivity. Members need to be encouraged and given space to do the job properly. However, this approach does not sit easily with an intention to introduce an incentive scheme.
  8. Openreach did offer to buy back outstanding annual leave but the take up was small. It needs to be stressed that the CWU is not in principle agreeing to buying annual leave. We have demanded however that no-one should lose leave that they have been unable to take and this may involve relaxation of the carry-over rules.

There is also commitment to allow engineers with the appropriate skills to continue working beyond their sixty-fifth birthday.

It is clear that there is still a long way to go in these negotiations and remaining matters of high concern for the Executive. Chief amongst these is the continued use of COT and the impact on members. Equally the long term use of third party resource is unacceptable to the CWU and needs to be resolved speedily.