‘Intolerable’ Saturday attendance levels tackled

Agreement has been reached with Openreach on a series of new mechanisms and protocols that will reduce the number of Saturdays engineers are being forced to work – bringing the company back into line with the Service Delivery Transformation (SDT) agreement.

With huge numbers of engineers across the country having to work well over the 12 Saturday attendances per year allowed under the agreement, the issue triggered an outpouring of anger at CWU Annual Conference, with delegates adamant that the situation was simply unacceptable.

No fewer than three motions condemning the ‘flouting’ of the SDT agreement in large parts of the country were on the order pad, proposing different ways of tacking the issue. Following passionate debate, a majority of delegates backed a South London, Surrey & North Hampshire branch motion calling for a major CWU campaign regarding member’s lack of work/life balance, potentially involving industrial action, unless Openreach reverted all team members back to the normal maximum of 12 Saturdays per year by the end of June.

Intensive discussions began just after Conference and this week – just days before the expiry of that deadline – agreement was reached on a series of measures that the CWU believes will defuse a potentially dangerous situation.

Central to the agreement, which is outlined in detail in Letter to Branches No. 373/18 (April, please insert link) is the introduction of a new ‘modeller’ that allows various ‘levers’ to be pulled which can amend the number of Saturdays required in each SOM patch.

That innovation – taken alongside additional resource on account of Service Delivery’s on-going exercise to recruit 3,000 new engineers this year and additional opportunities for voluntary overtime – has allowed most SOM patches to bring down the number of Saturday attendances required to the 12 stipulated in the CWU Conference motion.

Where that number is not reached, additional factors have been brought into play to achieve that figure, including a revised approach to Saturday annual leave which, where required, will be subject to consultation and agreement with CWU Single Points of Contact (SPOCs) and local branches.

There will also be an extension of voluntary options open to new recruits and existing employees who wish to adopt a seasonal working pattern on either a permanent or time-limited basis and, crucially for the CWU, the a trial of three-day week working for those interested in adopting such a pattern.

Assistant secretary Davie Bowman explains: “We’ve been pushing for a trial of three-day weeks for a long time, but this is the first time we’ve managed to get the company to commit to a trial in this work area.

“The National Team is working through the final details, and further information will be shared in the near future – well in advance of a voluntary exervice to find individuals who would like to participate in a 13 week trial.”

Davie continues: “The National Team believes that this overall approach fundamentally resets the situation regarding Saturday working in line with the policy set at CWU Annual Conference.

“Going forward, any proposals to change the number of Saturdays our members are scheduled to attend will continue to be dealt with in line with agreed protocols – namely subject to meaningful negotiation and agreement with the appropriate CWU branches.

“If the modeller says there is an operational requirement for more than 12 Saturdays being worked, branches now have an additional enabler to get it back down to 12. At the end of the day the only ones who can agree to our members working more than 12 Saturdays are CWU branches and regions, with arrangements being negotiated and agreed locally. Given the additional tools that have now been provided to help them secure the outcome they want, the National Team is convinced a robust framework is now in place to effectively tackle this issue on a local basis – in line with the terms of the motion carried at CWU Annual Conference and within the tight timescales delegates imposed.”

At Conference a number of delegates had cited the work/life balance issues caused by forced Saturday working – especially for members with sporting interests or those who simply want to spend time with their family.

Davie concludes: “For those engineers up and down the country who’ve been having to work up to 18 or more Saturdays a year, going down to 12 is going to make one hell of a difference – so this is a tangible victory for our members.

“Within minutes of the new arrangements being communicated on Wednesday I received my first mail from a member thanking the union on behalf of his family – and feedback doesn’t come better than that.”