- Prospect tells BT that members have not forgotten about a nil pay rise in 2020
- Discretionary bonuses and shares are not a replacement for a cost-of-living award
- Union is working to re-establish Equal Pay Reviews
Over the past few months Prospect members in BT have performed sterling work in keeping the UK connected during the greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes. Despite the huge social and economic disruption wrought by Covid-19, workers in BT have not only continued to deliver “business as usual”, but have also responded to the huge increase in demand for some services.
Our members’ commitment to an “all in it together” approach to steering the business through this crisis has been unstinting. Unfortunately, that commitment has not always been reciprocated by those at the top of the company. For example, the decision to unilaterally end pay negotiations with Prospect and not to give managers a pay rise for 2020 continues to be a running sore for our members. This decision became highly divisive and the complete antithesis of “all in it together” when a decision was taken to award team members a 1.5% increase. Members have made it clear to their union that they do not want to move on from this iniquity and Prospect have reiterated this in recent discussions on pay with the company.
The company’s rationale for not giving managers a pay rise was that they had decided to prioritise the payment of bonuses. This was a curious stance to take at the time the decision was made, given that no-one at that time knew whether, or not, bonuses would be paid. Furthermore, it must not be forgotten that the bonus is based on work that has already been done and is a reward for those efforts. It is not a consolidated enhancement in pay that takes account of inflation and rises in the cost of living.
Notwithstanding our reservations about the false dichotomy between pay and bonus, Prospect were relieved to see that bonuses were paid out across the business in June. Some analysis was presented to the union at a recent pay meeting along with some changes to the scheme, referred to as “tidying up”. One of these changes seems particularly petty, in that you will no longer receive bonus if on notice at the time it pays out. Unfortunately, given the discretionary nature of the bonus scheme there is no requirement for the company to negotiate such changes. This in itself illustrates why bonus can never be seen as a like-for-like replacement for an annual pay award.
The company has also shared details with Prospect on their intention to go ahead with an award of shares worth £500 to all employees. They also indicated their intention to award shares in the coming years, but would give no commitment about maintaining this at the £500 level.
Clearly it would be churlish to criticise the company for broadening their shareholder base and giving their own employees a stake in the business. However, the award of shares does appear to be part of a narrative that sees discretionary payments as part of an employee’s “overall reward package”. Members would be right to view this narrative with a huge degree of circumspection. For example, the shares have to be vested for three years and you have to be employed by BT at the end of the period. Given the huge amount of reorganisation anticipated within the next few years the value of the shares is likely to prove illusory for many.
There has rightly been a great deal of focus on inequalities in society as a result of the killing of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matters protests across the world. This has triggered some welcome messages and commitments to address racial inequality from corporate leaders in the UK, including BT’s Philip Jansen. Indeed, the union welcomes wholeheartedly the announcement form Philip that BT will be launching an Ethnicity Rapid Action Plan.
However, it is crucial that the company is able to move from fine words and sentiments to specific actions that can make a difference. Furthermore, these actions need to be shaped by employees and their union representatives, not least because it is the unions who will robustly monitor how these actions are being implemented.
Philip Jansen has mentioned the introduction of an ethnicity pay audit. Again this is a measure that is welcome, but it needs to be allied to an annual equal pay review that is conducted with the unions. Unfortunately, the direction of travel in BT over the past couple of years has been away from conducting equal pay reviews and towards greater discretion on the awarding of pay increases. Furthermore, deciding not to award any pay increase whatsoever to managers in 2020 will only embed existing inequalities and do nothing to promote the fairer pay system that BT say they are committed to.
Finally, your union continues to provide support and representation to members in BT during these incredibly uncertain times. Furthermore, only an independent union can hold employers to account when they do things that are detrimental to the interest of our members. Prospect is THE independent voice for managers and professionals in BT and we would urge you to encourage colleagues to join the union in order to make our voice stronger. You can also find us on Workplace at the links below. Join the debate and join us in making BT an employer that follows up its words with actions.
Please continue to follow us on Workplace at https://bt.workplace.com/groups/ProspectUnion/
and for members in Openreach, it is https://openreach.workplace.com/groups/1404567416378943/