19th May 2020 – Reporting of abuse stemming from 5G/COVID-19 conspiracy theory
Field engineering members across the entire telecommunications sector are reminded of the paramount importance of ensuring that any abusive behaviour they encounter in the course of their duties is formally reported and logged – especially where it relates to ‘fake news’ that coronavirus is somehow being spread by the rollout of 5G.
Six weeks after the absurd conspiracy theory began with a widely shared video on social media, feedback received by the CWU suggests the number of engineers being subjected to threatening behaviour by members of the public continues to escalate – despite concerted efforts to quash the groundless rumour by the CWU, Ofcom, health experts politicians and the mainstream media.
Although the major social media platforms moved swiftly to take down the original offending video and other material perpetuating the falsehood, within just a fortnight more than 80 instances of abuse had been reported across the UK, 35 of which involved Openreach engineers. Today the abuse tally stands at 76 in Openreach alone. The vast majority of those targeted were conducting work that had nothing whatsoever to do with 5G.
Mercifully, to date the CWU has not received any reports of serious physical assaults, though in one case an Openreach engineer sitting in his van was soaked when a woman screaming abuse about 5G threw a bottle of water at him when he stopped at traffic lights in London. A number of members have been spat at, however, and some have felt sufficiently intimidated by hostile individuals or groups to be forced to withdraw to a safe location.
The majority of attacks have occurred in urban locations, typically involving verbal tirades being hurled at engineers working in the street, normally by individuals in cars. However, in an environment where a small minority of mindless individuals feel able to lash out at key workers who are doing their utmost to keep the UK’s vital communications infrastructure up and running at a time of national crisis, the fear is that it is only a matter of time before we witness an actual physical assault.
That’s why it’s essential that every single incident is formally reported and logged, so that patterns and locations of attacks can be analysed. The CWU understands BT Group is already drawing up ‘heat maps’ which could help shape local protocols to minimise future risk to engineers and potentially assist in the targeting of serial perpetrators. We’ve also received assurances that the company is actively working with Facebook to ensure any further posts perpetuating the 5G/COVID-19 conspiracy theory are promptly removed – though members also have a role to play in highlighting offending material.
Whatever company you work for the message from the CWU is the same: If you experience abusive behaviour in the course of trying to carry out your job, first and foremost prioritise your safety and remove yourself from the situation as best you can.
If you feel physically threatened, do not hesitate to ring 999 – but, even with less serious cases of verbal abuse or hostility, make sure the incident is formally recorded using the established accident reporting process and that your manager is aware of what has happened.
On top of that, ALWAYS inform your local rep or CWU Branch – because it’s only by being aware of the abusive situations that members experience that the CWU can, both locally and nationally, ensure that steps are taken to address the issue and provide any support that is needed.
12th May 2020 – Coronavirus – Government announcement on easing lockdown measures
Whilst many CWU members will not be directly affected by the changes in relation to the re-opening of workplaces, we do have members who will be and we will all be impacted by the easing of lockdown measures more generally. The union has therefore been engaging with the Government independently and through the TUC over the past two months.
The Prime Minister has set out a number of steps on easing the lockdown for England including encouraging the re-opening of workplaces that have shut – notably in manufacturing and construction – where it is not possible for staff to work from home; removing the limit on exercising outside only once a day from Wednesday, while continuing social distancing requirements; and looking ahead, the possible re-opening of primary schools, starting with certain year groups in June, and the possible re-opening of the hospitality industry in July. A summary of the measures is attached to this LTB.
Alongside this, the Government has published more detailed guidance about safe-working in certain types of workplaces including offices and contact centres, other people’s homes and shops and branches. Along with the TUC, the CWU has been engaging with the Government on its workplace proposals and this guidance over the past two months. Working with other unions we have been pushing the Government to put the health and safety of workers first with regard to any easing of the lockdown and to clearly set out the steps employers need to take in order to ensure workplaces are safe. We have also made a number of proposals in relation to working practices in our own industries and taken part in a Government consultation to set out the union’s views.
We do not believe the Government has managed the latest announcements well, particularly by failing to publish its guidance on specific workplaces until last night and having been unclear initially about when it hoped workplaces that had been closed would open from – it has now clarified it is encouraging re-opening from Wednesday. We are also concerned that there is no UK-wide approach to social distancing, that the public messaging is not sufficiently clear and in several areas the proposals we made in relation to particular types of workplaces have not been included in the final guidance.
For members who are affected by changes as a result of the announcements on workplaces this week, it is important to be clear that employers are under legal obligations to protect workers from risks to their health and safety, to carry out risk-assessments and to consult union health and safety representatives. Importantly, employees have individual rights not to work in a workplace where they reasonably believe it would be unsafe to do so. The guidance the Government has published sets out more detailed workplace- specific standards in relation to coronavirus on issues such as maintaining 2 metre distancing and cleaning surfaces, and where any employer is re-opening their business or changing working practices in response to the Government’s announcement, it is important that branches contact the relevant industrial department for advice.
Similarly, where changes are being made by employers and there are questions in relation to those in vulnerable groups who have been told to self-isolate, individuals who have childcare issues or face difficulties getting to work because of public transport, branches should contact the relevant industrial department.
Finally, alongside the TUC, the union will be continuing to push the Government on both immediate steps taken in response to the crisis – including statutory sick pay, benefits levels, the furlough scheme and support for parents – and the need to ensure working people do not suffer as a result of a long-term economic crisis. The NEC will be discussing these issues later this week and we will be saying more on the union’s demands and how we will be campaigning on this as part of our ongoing work on the new deal for workers.
20th April 2020 – CWU win for BT members living with Covid 19 ‘extremely vulnerable’
An important breakthrough has today (Monday) been finalised by the union on behalf of members across BT Group who live with individuals deemed to be at especially high risk of life-threatening complications if they contract Covid 19.
Ever since the Government notified 1.8 million people that they should isolate themselves at home to protect themselves from coronavirus, the CWU has been pressurising BT to address a glaring inconsistency in its guidance to staff that left those who are not ‘extremely vulnerable’ themselves, but who live with loved-ones who are, with an agonising dilemma.
While the company moved with commendable speed to ensure that all employees positively identified as being ‘extremely vulnerable’ to Covid 19 have been either set up for homeworking or granted paid special leave, public health guidance issued by Ministers made no provision for healthy individuals living with an ‘extremely vulnerable’ person.
Despite CWU pleas for both groups to be treated similarly, BT initially insisted it was simply applying the Government guidelines and that anyone living with a super-vulnerable person for whom homeworking wasn’t a viable option should continue to come to work and take extra care to follow social distancing and hand washing guidance.
However, following further CWU representations to the company – providing poignant examples of the anguish being caused to those who feel they are taking a daily gamble of contracting a virus that could represent a death sentence to ‘extremely vulnerable’ loved ones – the problem initially appeared to have been resolved when BT Group performed a very welcome about-turn.
New guidance agreed with the union just before the Bank Holiday weekend categorically stipulated that
“any BT colleague who is unable to attend their normal place of work without creating undue risk for someone they live with should also stay at home and self-isolate.
“We’ll support you,” the statement continues, “by continuing to pay you in full for the days that you need to stay at home during the shielding period (as defined in official guidance)” and “not counting this time as sick leave.”
Yet over the Bank Holiday weekend the situation descended into confusion after employees were issued with different and completely contradictory guidelines which comprehensively undermined the spirit of that agreement.
Throughout the course of last week, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr and assistant secretary Dave Jukes had a series of emergency conference calls with BT Group in which they robustly challenged the company’s backtracking – pointing out that the inexplicable about-turn had returned a number of Openreach to the invidious situation they had been in prior to the earlier apparent breakthrough.
Welcoming BT Group’s significant policy shift, CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes said: “This is an important step forward, and one that the CWU has championed vociferously because, despite the huge strides made across BT Group to set up as many people as possible for homeworking, that simply isn’t possible for everyone – including, of course, field engineers in Openreach.
“Two of the cases most recently flagged up to the company involved just such members – both of whom have children with serious underlying health issues – but other cases flagged up previously involved members with elderly and infirm live-in relatives who had also been identified as ‘extremely vulnerable’ by the health authorities.”
Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr concludes: “It’s hard to imagine the relief that these members must be feeling today on account of BT’s belated recognition that Government guidelines can sometimes fail to cover all eventualities.
“I’d like to thank all the branches that escalated the examples to headquarters that enabled the CWU to persuade the company to change its mind and bring this matter to a satisfactory conclusion.”
15th April 2020 – PPE and Social Distancing – CWU Online Support
CWU representatives at all levels have worked tirelessly in making sure our members have access to PPE in the workplace and that social distancing measures are in place. This has been against a background of employers and managers not always acting as quickly as they should have and in some cases failing to prioritise the health and safety of our members. To this end, we want to thank again our local representatives and branches, who in very difficult circumstances have been outstanding in dealing with our members’ concerns.
To further support the members and the work our representatives have been doing, we have now developed a simple webpage where members can log their PPE/social distancing issues. From there, we will send the queries to branches locally to be picked up. This work will be supplemented as necessary through the union’s structures.
This web page is another advancement of our digital support for members and will operate for all CWU constituencies and every company we have members in. It will ensure the whole union is as visible as possible to our members in systematically logging and tackling these difficult issues during the Coronavirus pandemic. We want to reassure all representatives that this approach is designed to support and not replace the great work that is already taking place.
The web page can be seen here www.cwu.org/ppe
8th April 2020 – COVID-19 T&FS Information
Latest info with regard to working during the COVID-19 outbreak can be found via – https://www.cwu.org/covid-19-info
5th April 2020 – Branch Survey
BT branch members will have been emailed a link to a short survey, as we would like to get your views on how you are feeling with your working conditions at the present time during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The survey consists of 10 Questions and should take no longer than 5 minute to complete.
Entering your name and/or email address is optional, but if you do, this will enable us to contact you, to fully understand your issues and worries and to give you more advice and help.
All personal details will be kept anonymous.
Many thanks in advance for completion.
30th March 2020 – CWU BT Members -Temporary Home Working Policy – COVID19
BT’s Temporary Home Working Policy can be found here (BT Wellbeing Website). Login and search for “Temporary Home Working Policy.
This policy is intended to be used during the present COVID19 crisis.
The CWU has asked for clarity from the company on two points so far, these are the reference to HMRC rules on working from home and whether employees may be able to claim something for doing this. The second is the possible implications on member’s home insurance. As soon as an answer is received this will be posted here.
27th March 2020 – CWU BT Members Bulletin – Latest FAQ’s
FAQs about pay, absence and leave – 26th March 2020 (Download)
HR FAQ’s – 26th March 2020 (Download)
26th March 2020 – CWU Coronavirus Covid-19 – My rights at work
During these extraordinary times, and the rapid change in response to Covid 19, our support to our members is paramount. Regardless of the company you work for the CWU are here to help and monitor the terms under which you work. You are the invisible group of key workers keeping the backbone of communication and financial support in this country running. You are ensuring people are connected to the outside world in their homes as well as providing financial support. We are trying to keep you up to date with the evolving situation so we can provide some solid advice for each employer you work for. No worker should be penalised for following the government advice.
If you wish to contact the CWU, we are still working as normal. Your first contact should be with your local branch. Click Here to go to Branch Contact Page.
We have also set up a dedicated email address for you to email with your concerns. This is firstname.lastname@example.org. This will be checked on a daily basis and will make every effort to respond as soon as we are able.
The situation changes daily, however, the NHS information should help you and your families keep up to date. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
Covid-19 is having an unprecedented effect on working life. Many of you have been identified as key workers and aren’t able to work at home, therefore have genuine health and safety concerns. The CWU want to ensure that your attendance at work is only to perform critical duties. The health and safety of our members is paramount. We are therefore working with your employers and challenging them on a number of fronts. We will be in touch very soon to provide more detail for the specific employer you work for. In the meantime please email our dedicated email address above if you feel your concerns are not being listened to.
Below are some key points :
· If you have to be at work – you shouldn’t be hot-desking and employers should ensure the required two metre rule for social distancing. Employers should sanitise all work areas and provide the appropriate health and safety equipment to employees including hand washing facilities or hand sanitiser.
· If you are able to work at home you are entitled to ask your employer for the right equipment to be able to do this.
· The Government has categorised two types of vulnerable people:
· The Government advice to vulnerable people is to be particularly stringent in following social distancing. You should work from home if you can. If you are a key worker you should only be carrying out critical work and in a way that follows the Government guidelines on social distancing. The CWU are negotiating with your employer for you to stay at home on full pay.
· If you have been identified as extremely vulnerable – and have received a letter from the NHS regarding shielding you should not be at work for the next twelve weeks. See a list of these people here. You can however work at home, but this must be in isolation. Anybody in this category of ‘at risk’ workers who are unable to work from home should be receiving full pay, nobody should be financially worse off for trying to save their own or other people’s lives.
· If you live with someone who is shielding and don’t want to put them at further risk by coming into work, you should talk to your employer but also seek help from your CWU branch.
· If you are a pregnant employee, you should not be made to go into work even if you are a ‘key worker’. The government has categorised pregnant women as belonging to a ‘vulnerable group of workers for COVID-19 and has advised pregnant women to avoid going outside where possible. The CWU believe you should have a right to stay at home for health & safety reasons if you are pregnant.
More generally for all workers the TUC has called for a number of measures that the government should put in place to ensure workers in the UK are not disadvantaged.
23rd March 2020 – BT Wellbeing Web Site
See the latest advice about Engineers accessing customers premises the link for all information is here and requires EIN and Password to access the site remotely. (now available on a mobile friendly site)
This site has most of the advice and answers currently provided by Openreach on entering the premises and is quite extensive.
Remember each case is different and the engineer should make their own risk assessment. NB: All advice is changing so visit the site regularly to ensure you give up to date information.
20th March 2020 – LTB 143/20 – Coronavirus COVID-19 – CWU Headquarters
The purpose of this LTB is to give further and important information on the services provided by CWU Headquarters during the Coronavirus crisis.
As you will have seen government advice continues to change daily and as an organisation we have a responsibility to the people we employ, their families and communities to do all we can to limit the spread of this virus.
In London the Mayor of London has issued strong advice around the use of public transport i.e. it should be avoided unless for essential work. This places a further strain upon our staff when it comes to attending for work.
In addition, we have had to ensure that those who are in the high-risk category or who live with those so classified do not attend for work. We now also have to plan for the impact of the school closures announcement in that a further group of staff will simply not be able to attend for work as a result of having childcare responsibilities.
As a result of the above it is becoming extremely difficult to adopt a business as usual policy. We don’t have the staff numbers available to do that.
Accordingly, we have taken the decision to close the building at 5 p.m. tonight and we have put in place a plan that will enable key members of staff to continue to provide a level of service to our members. This means key members of staff have been equipped to work remotely during our normal hours. As a result, Branches and Reps should continue to contact departments as normal.
In prioritising this streamlined operation, particularly to continue servicing members industrially, we will continue to review these remote working arrangements and changes are likely to be made in the light of experience.
Attached to this LTB is a directory of a small number of CWU key employees as well as key representatives with their contact details, this should assist in raising issues you may have.
We are in the process of setting up a phone transfer system that will transfer desk numbers to mobile phones for key staff and representatives to further allow as much business as usual as we possibly can.
In addition, the out of hours email address email@example.com will be constantly monitored during normal business hours and any enquiries that come into the organisation by this method will be forwarded to the appropriate departments. The normal voicemail message has been changed to reflect the change in circumstances resulting from the closure of 150 The Broadway.
The above actions are being put in place to enable us to receive contact as best we can.
Our Communications team, are fully equipped to work remotely and our Comms team will therefore be able to ensure all our key messages are sent out as normal across all of our communications platforms.
CWU Legal Service – we ask both branches and members to limit any legal enquires to those of an urgent nature whilst the Government’s restrictions are in place. We would also ask that any enquires are conducted via email for the time being. If your enquiry is relating to an employment law matter could you please use the following: firstname.lastname@example.org
If your matter is relating to personal injury could you use the following: email@example.com
Members can register any PI claim via the Unionline link found on the CWU web page, rather than submit the usual LS3s.
With regard to our Finance operation, this has also been prioritised. As you would imagine finance systems, particularly interfacing with the bank and making payments requires access to secure systems. Accordingly, some but not all Finance staff will be able to work remotely and securely.
We are planning at this stage to pay the March rebate as normal as well as be set up to receive income in the usual manner. Whilst we will have to monitor this operation on a daily basis there is likely to be an impact on any exceptional, one off or expense claims as a result of not all finance staff being able to work as normal.
We are doing all we can to ensure that as much of our day-to-day operation carries on, but to be clear the services we will be able to provide are on a contingency basis and these may need to be changed as circumstances dictate.
Any enquires should be address to the SDGS firstname.lastname@example.org.
19th March 2020 – LTB 138/20 – Coronavirus COVID-19 Outbreak declared ‘Pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – What Does it Mean?
The coronavirus outbreak has now been labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Declaring a pandemic has nothing to do with changes to the characteristics of a disease, but is instead associated with concerns over its geographic spread. According to the WHO, a pandemic is declared when a new disease for which people do not have immunity spreads around the world beyond expectations.
Cases that involve travellers who have been infected in a foreign country and have then returned to their home country, or who have been infected by that traveller, known as the “index case”, do not count towards declaring a pandemic. There needs to be a second wave of infection from person to person throughout the community.
Once a pandemic is declared, it becomes more likely that community spread will eventually happen, and governments and health systems need to ensure they are prepared for that.
An ‘epidemic’, on the other hand, is a sudden increase in cases of an illness or disease that can be unique to one country or community.
Ultimately, the WHO gets the final say when a pandemic is declared. There is no threshold, such as a certain number of deaths or infections, or number of countries affected, that needs to be met. For example, the ‘SARS coronavirus’, identified in 2003, was not declared a pandemic by the WHO despite affecting 26 countries. However, its spread was contained quickly, and only a handful of nations were significantly affected, including China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Canada.
‘Pandemic’ is not a word to use lightly or carelessly the WHO have stated clearly. It’s a word that, if misused, can cause unreasonable fear, or unjustified acceptance that the fight is over. The last pandemic was in 2009 with the ‘Swine Flu H1N1 Virus’. That pandemic, which was first detected in Mexico, killed an estimated 200,000 people and hit young adults and children hardest. The ‘Coronavirus-COVID-19 Virus’ pandemic on the other hand is killing mostly older adults with underlying health conditions.
If declaring a pandemic triggers global panic, this can defeat the purpose of trying to raise awareness stated the WHO. Much has been written about whether the declaration of ‘Swine Flu (H1N1)’ as a pandemic in 2009, caused unnecessary panic, overwhelming emergency departments and causing governments to overspend on antiviral medications.
Medical experts state “It should be remembered that Coronavirus symptoms are generally mild and most people recover within six days.”
Now the WHO has declared Covid-19 a pandemic, what will it mean for the way the outbreak is treated and prepared for?
The WHO has stressed that using the word “pandemic” does not signal a change in its advice. It is still urging countries to “detect, test, treat, isolate, trace and mobilise their people”. The change of term does not alter anything practically as the world has been advised for the last few weeks to prepare for a potential pandemic, which has hopefully been taken seriously by all countries.
The use of this term however highlights the importance of countries throughout the world working cooperatively and openly with one another and coming together as a united front in our efforts to bring this situation under control.
See Links below: (updated daily):-
UK Government Policy Paper – Coronavirus action plan: a guide to what you can expect across the UK https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-action-plan
Public Health England Paper – Coronavirus (COVID-19) – 5 things you can do to protect yourself and your community https://publichealthmatters.blog.gov.uk/2020/03/04/coronavirus-covid-19-5-things-you-can-do-to-protect-yourself-and-your-community/
Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England – Number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and risks in the UK. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
5th March 2020 – LTB 105/20 – BT Personnel – Coronavirus (COVID-9
The Union has been in discussions with BT during the past week on the Coronavirus outbreak.
The general advice from Public Health England is outlined below including the link as the advice may change over time. This also covers guidance for people who may have visited affected areas and general hygiene.
There is also a link to the NHS 111 online service.
Further information from the World Health Organisation is also given.
World Health Organisation https://www.who.int/
Public Health England – Present Advice
The advice for anyone in any setting is to follow these main guidelines.
- If you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus or have returned from an affected area identified by the Chief Medical Officer as high risk and you are feeling unwell with a cough, difficulty breathing or fever, stay at home and use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service or call NHS 111.
- Wash your hands more often than usual, for 20 seconds using soap and hot water, particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose, or after being in public areas where other people are doing so. Use hand sanitiser if that’s all you have access to.
- To reduce the spread of germs when you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or your sleeve (not your hands) if you don’t have a tissue, and throw the tissue away immediately. Then wash your hands or use a hand sanitising gel.
- Clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces using your regular cleaning products to reduce the risk of passing the infection on to other people.
As mentioned above, the situation could change but the links within this LTB should help members to keep up-to-date with the medical advice.