Desperate BT Openreach bosses have “lost control” in a battle with a group of their own highly skilled engineers, according to a union rep.
The engineers—members of the CWU union—were set to end the longest round of strikes in their dispute so far on Friday.
“It’s just amateur hour at BT,” he said. “I don’t know who’ve they’ve got advising them. All they’ve done is wind the members up.
The strikers—a group of 170 highly-skilled Repayment Project Engineers—are fighting to stop an attempt by bosses to change the nature of their job. Bosses want to shift them onto a management grade, which would worsen terms and conditions for new starters, and remove union recognition.
During the week, managers tried to contact strikers to tell them the dispute was over, the rep told Socialist Worker. But the strikers saw through it.
“The members are upset because a local manager was ringing their personal phones throughout the day and late at night,” he said. The local manager did it “to gleefully announce they’ve changed the name of the management role and therefore you can come back to work”.
“But the worse terms and conditions and losing union recognition are still there,” the rep said. “They thought changing the name and sounding excited about it would convince them.
“But the members just feel they’re being harassed and their intelligence insulted.”
The move shows BT’s top bosses are getting desperate. They tried to pretend the engineers’ strikes had made no impact.
But the workers know their action is causing a growing backlog of work. Their job involves arranging for BT cables to be moved or protected during major building work—so a strike could cause disruption to some major construction projects.
Now the companies that pay BT to do that work are getting annoyed.
“A big developer has contacted Openreach to say what on earth are you doing?” said the rep. “Customers have been ringing them asking what’s going in, why isn’t my work getting done.
“BT has tried to tell them it’s just that engineers are taking annual leave or off sick. But the CWU has emailed customers to tell them what’s really going on.”
Bosses are desperate not to be seen to be beaten, as an even bigger dispute is brewing across BT.
The CWU has said it plans to ballot all of its members across BT over a major “reorganisation” that could mean compulsory redundancies as well as attacks on pay and conditions.
Yet bosses’ tactics are only encouraging workers to fight. “The real problem is they just won’t listen to people,” said the rep. “All they’re doing is undermining themselves so when they do come forward it will be difficult for the guys to trust them.”
Strikers held more than 50 picket lines at BT workplaces across the country throughout the week. More strikes are likely—and in some areas the engineers are holding days of action to appeal for solidarity among other BT workers.
“The strike is still solid, and if they had to vote again, they would vote again,” said the rep. “We’re going to carry on striking and adding extra days. This will not go away for BT.”