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Openreach: Resourcing Agreement Issues

27 December 2011

It has become clear over the past number of weeks that the situation within Openreach regarding resourcing has become extremely difficult between the CWU and the company. The union has met the company on a number of occasions in order to progress the issues, with little success and continued difficulty from Openreach regarding a coherent resourcing plan.

The Union has four major objectives:

  1. That Openreach sets out a resourcing plan that meets the terms of the agreements between us;
  2. An increase in permanent direct labour to ensure non reliance on 3rd party resource as a day to day necessity going forward;
  3. Maintain (and enhance where possible) existing and future employees terms and conditions going forward;
  4. Enhance future employment prospects and job security.

Openreach in Breach of Agreements

The overriding issue for the CWU is that Openreach has an ever increasing work-stack, that can no longer be described as a peak, and which makes long term permanent employment on full NewGRID terms and conditions possible. Unfortunately due to poor forecasting and unrealistic efficiency savings factored into earlier financial plans, what should be a good news story for Openreach, our members and future employees is in the process of becoming very bad news.

We have a number of agreements between us which have the flexibility and provision to deal with the challenges Openreach currently face. Not only are these not being used, it is the view of the CWU that Openreach is in breach of these and the additional assurances set out in Clive Gunby’s letters dated 4 February and 7 March 2011. A key issue is the company’s commitment to their statement that 'direct labour is the labour of first choice', which is being called into question. The current position is unacceptable to the CWU, we want to work with Openreach to resolve this situation but if we continue with no obvious plan to deal with our concerns, then we will be left with no option other than to escalate this matter further utilising all means that are available to us.

By way of a reminder, the agreed position between the CWU and Openreach is as follows with the actuality during the past months in bold (the numbers indicate the known maximums during that period):

  • 500 Apprentices employed beginning September 2011 – delivered 38;
  • 150 FTC conversions – delivered 114;
  • 350 Mobile workers (MI product) – delivered 279 – currently employ another approximatley 520 on multi-skilled work outside SDT agreement;
  • 810 Fixed Term Contract staff – delivered 468 on 11 month contracts most of whom are finished in April/May 2012;
  • 250 Kelly/Quinn on simple provision to be out of the system by 30 September 2011 – 899 still in post and listed on intranet;
  • 290 agency in the field – 504 in situ with no detail how the Agency Workers Directive (AWD) will be met.

In addition, it was agreed that there would be no requirement for the use of agency resource in the frames environment and yet 480+ were in situ and again with no detail or proposals with regard to the AWD.

CWU Position

We have set out our position to Openreach on all of the above issues and this can be summarised as follows.

Apprentices

Given the age profile and gender imbalance in Openreach field engineering functions, we expect the company to meet the agreement and create 500 opportunities for young people to gain employment with BT. We have made clear that meeting their public pronouncements by both the Group and Openreach CEOs in this regard will be essential in moving this whole debate forward.

FTC Conversions

We expect a minimum of 150 conversions to SDT contracts to take place and the pace and number of conversions accelerated.

Mobile Workers

The CWU have a major issue with the employment of a further approximatley 520 direct labour staff on the new mobile contract. The union initially welcomed the recruitment of the 350 on the basis that they were ring-fenced on the Managed Install product, but clearly stated at the time further discussions would be required around the issue of travelling time. There is evidence which shows that employees are travelling in excess of 90 minutes on a regular basis and all travel at weekends to distant locations is also unpaid. This, in the CWU’s view, is out-with the NewGRID, SDT and Resourcing agreements.

Openreach now propose to utilise both the existing and new mobile workers on the full range of duties, thereby formally once again creating a `two tier’ workforce. An integral part of the SDT agreement was to have every employee on a single contract of employment with regard to attendance, overtime and agility. In the CWU’s view, any move to multi-skill the mobile workers breaks the SDT agreement and undermines the future terms and conditions of the existing workforce. The SDT contract offers Openreach all the required flexibility needed from an agility point of view and therefore it is our opinion that the use of the Mobile Workers Contract will bring us into conflict unless it is resolved.

We have made clear that in the CWU’s view, any future employees should be employed on the SDT contract, existing mobile workers converted to SDT contracts and the SDT agreement used appropriately with regard to agility.

FTC

Whilst Openreach have indicated that they will look at further agency to FTC conversions, this no longer completely solves the ongoing requirement for direct labour. We will continue to hold the view that Openreach should offer permanent employment of those already on a FTC and permanence for those agency staff considered for new FTCs.

Kellys/Quinns

This issue has given the team and our members the most problems throughout this period. Initially employed for six months on simple provision work, the initial 250 has grown at the last count (from the intranet) to 899. The CWU’s position is that the use of Kellys and Quinns should be ceased and permanent employees taken on to complete the work being carried out at present because we do not accept that it is of a short term nature but rather it is BAU.Agency (Field and Frames)

The vast majority of the agency staff in these two areas have been in situ for most of the calendar year and some for longer. Clearly the introduction of the AWD means that this situation needs to be resolved in one form or another. Openreach have failed to set out what their plan is for either the agency workers currently employed by Hays or how they envisage the work being completed going forward. Openreach allowed almost 200 Openreach employees to go on Newstart terms within frames on the basis that they would be backfilled from the SDRP and through Network Investment efficiencies. Neither of these predictions came to fruition and both the field and frames activities continue to be required.

The CWU position is that, given the long term requirement for the work being carried out, agency staff should be converted to permanent contracts.

Easement

In addition to the above issues, Openreach have predicted that somewhere in the region of 800 people will leave the business taking advantage of the pension easement window. Whilst there can be no certainty at this point regarding the numbers, the impact of further reductions in the BAU direct labour numbers would compound an already difficult position.

The CWU have made clear to Openreach that those who leave the business during the easement period must be replaced on a one for one basis on permanent NewGRID SDT contracts. Given the timescales involved some clarity on this issue is essential.

Conclusion

Openreach continues to experience volatility given the actions of the CPs in general, their marketing campaigns and customer perception with regard to broadband performance in the repair work-stack. The CWU recognises the work that is being done in order to deal with that volatility going forward. The CWU does accept that there will be a need for some contingency resourcing going forward, given the nature of the market Openreach operates within, and are willing to explore with the company what may be possible and acceptable within the current agreements we have between us. The key issue for the CWU is increasing the number of people employed by Openreach in order to deal with the BAU requirements and that they are on the agreed SDT contract.

Unfortunately Openreach’s continued failure to deal with the BAU requirement for resource makes any discussion on contingency resourcing pointless. The CWU now believe that Openreach has no credible resourcing plan and as a result is driving an alternative third party labour resourcing strategy either deliberately or because of a lack of planning. This situation is unacceptable and needs to be resolved urgently otherwise the CWU will be forced to take action to oppose what seems to be disregard of agreements and protocols between us.