Challenging times in Technology

Serious people issues stemming from the rapid pace of change in BT Technology dominated the agenda at a special branch forum to discuss developments in the division.

At present the CWU is dealing with not just the aftermath of a voluntary paid leaver scheme (VPLS) that will see around 200 team member grades leave the business by the end of January – but also two TUPE transfers and the relocation of work currently carried out by the Network Operations Centre in Newcastle to Adastral Park and Cardiff.

Those upheavals come in the wake of a headcount reduction of four CWU-represented grades at the Wolverhampton Build Factory and are set against a wider reskilling and redeployment challenge stemming from automation, technological change and the looming switch-off of legacy platforms.

The intense pressure on BT Technology to constantly keep at least one step ahead of an ever-accelerating digital revolution – which management insist is driving these changes – was graphically highlighted in a special business presentation to the assembled reps.

Jointly delivered by Technology’s Dynamic Infrastructure sub-division’s networks director, Vince DiPonio, and principal network architect, Simon Challinor  – pictured outside CWU headquarters far right and back left respectively, with CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge (centre), NEC member Ken Woolley (left) and representatives of BT Technology’s HR team – the fascinating overview revealed Technology’s pivotal role in the UK’s communications infrastructure.

It also included a detailed explanation as to why accelerating the migration from legacy platforms to digital-age systems is now essential, what the associated automation will mean in practice and how the business is responding to the people issues surrounding that challenge.

Supporting 10.4 million wholesale broadband customers, and with no less than 70% of the UK’s mobile traffic going through its network, simply powering Technology’s systems accounts for an astonishing 0.7% of the UK’s total energy consumption!

Yet it’s precisely the scale and importance of the workload handled by the Dynamic Infrastructure (DI) sub-division – and particularly the fact that it’s power & cooling sub-division has previously cited difficulties recruiting sufficient power engineers – that has prompted the CWU to ask serious questions about the rationale of the VPLS exercise.

“We are worried about the number of people they’ve let go explains CWU assistant secretary Sally Bridge.

“The CWU is deeply concerned that the departing individuals are going to leave gaps that will increase pressure on the remaining workforce, because in engineering services 140 engineers will be leaving the business and only 37 of them will be backfilled.

“We’re very doubtful that the ‘transformation, automation and efficiencies’ cited by the business as the rationale for the VPLS justifies such a large headcount reduction – and we’re particularly puzzled as to why they’ve been letting power engineers go when our understanding is that the business is crying out for more.”

Further concerns…

The CWU also has serious reservations over the way the criteria for VPLS release was interpreted in different parts of the country – with apparent discrepancies infuriating many of the 170 who applied to go but who were turned down.

“There are a lot of very disappointed people out there, and the CWU has already warned management they need to deal with a morale issue which we believe was needlessly exacerbated by DI offering VPLS to groups who were never going to have their applications accepted in the first place,” adds Sally.

Further CWU concerns discussed at the forum included the importance of Technology actively supporting redeployees through the job search process now that the BT Transition Centre no longer exists.

CWU Technology national team chair Ken Woolley reported on the forceful representations being made by the union on behalf of the solitary CWU member who is currently in scope, alongside seven managers, for TUPE transfer to a company which has already declared its intention to make all eight redundant.

The union is also seeking various guarantees and safeguards for 33 CWU-represented grade employees who are in scope to be TUPE transferred from BT Technology to IBM on April 1. A meeting is taking place with both companies tomorrow (Tuesday) and affected members will be updated after that.