Despite the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic there has been a raft of announcements in the past two weeks in respect of BT’s Better Workplace Programme. Members will recall that this programme is implementing the company’s location strategy as first outlined by the then Chief Executive, Gavin Patterson, back in May 2018. The proposal was to have around 30 office locations in the UK, compared to over 300 currently. Whilst there has been a drip feed of announcements of new sites and refurbishment plans over the past two years, there has been very little activity in terms of moving people from those locations that will close. However, the past week has seen some significant announcements that appear to indicate the programme is moving to its next phase.
Prospect’s overarching question to BT is why now? Covid 19 has necessitated a mass decanting of BT’s offices and there is no sign of any return to normal office working in the near future. Indeed, in the absence of a vaccine businesses like BT will need to continue to allow homeworking, wherever possible. Moreover, occupancy in offices will need to be restricted, not least to keep those that need to be there safe. In this context the “carry on regardless” approach to implementing the Better Workplace Programme seems at best premature, but at worst completely unnecessary given that the vast majority of staff will be unable to relocate any time soon. Of course there is also the broader debate on the future of office working itself. For example, the Openreach Chief Executive, Clive Selley, has been in the press speculating on the end of “catching the 6.45 to Charing Cross every day”. If these questions are being asked at the top of the organisation then it seems a pause on relocations is imperative given the uncertainty around Covid 19 and the new reality that will be shaped by it.
The most immediate issue facing our members is the closure of all available office space in Aberdeen. With the expiry of the lease on the main building in the city, New Telecoms House, BT has taken the decision not to renew. This may be explicable in the sense that Aberdeen is not one of the “around 30 locations”. However, the decision to proceed with a redundancy consultation at this time will be devastating for our members based in Aberdeen, given that those “at risk” are working from home and could conceivably do so for some months to come, if not for an even longer period of time. Moreover, there is no sign of the strategic locations across BT and Openreach being fully occupied any time soon. Indeed, the programme was already scheduled to take another three years to implement and Covid 19 will inevitably delay progress in populating the strategic sites.
Prospect will continue to make the argument that homeworking should be a consideration in avoiding redundancies for the 41 managers at risk as a result of the closures. We will also work with members individually, where they ask us to, in order to provide alternative proposals to the business that would help to mitigate any redundancies. This was an approach that worked well when BT closed the Swindon site last year and we will use the lessons learnt from this to support our members in Aberdeen. Rest assured that Prospect remain opposed to compulsory redundancies and we have been successful up until now in preventing members from being compelled to leave the business without the option of Enhanced Voluntary Redundancy Payments.
There is also the broader political concern about a major UK employer like BT pulling out of the third biggest city in Scotland. This concern is heightened by the complete removal of Technology roles in Scotland under Better Workplace. Prospect will be lobbying politicians and working with the Scottish TUC to demand that BT retains a significant footprint and jobs within Scotland.
If you are impacted by the closure of the Aberdeen sites and require assistance and support from Prospect then please do not hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Three Snowhill, Birmingham
Another Better Workplace announcement made in the past week has been the decision to start moving staff into Three Snowhill, the newly built site in the centre of Birmingham. Once again the concept of “moving” is an abstract one, at least in the short term, given that no-one is in a position to physically move into Snowhill at this time. There is an aspiration to start populating the office in November, but this is clearly contingent on both the formulation of a return to offices plan from BT and government guidance relating to Covid 19.
Prospect have been informed that 688 people will initially be moved into Snowhill under what is being described as phase one. The building has capacity for around 3,500 people although five of the seventeen floors will be occupied by another tenant.
Under phase one the majority of people being moved are adjacent to the new site. However, there are over 150 employees who have between a 15 to 90 minute journey each-way. This is BT’s calculation, therefore, Prospect will be testing the veracity of this estimate in order to ensure it is reasonable in commuting terms. There is also one manager who is at risk of redundancy because of the distance they live away from Snowhill.
As mentioned above Prospect have questioned why the Snowhill moves need to take effect now, given that no-one can occupy the building until November at the earliest. We recognise that BT have made a huge commitment in investing in Snowhill, but the wider context of Covid 19 and government guidelines stating people should work from home cannot be ignored. We also recognise that an underpinning principle of Better Workplace is collaborative working. However, the opportunities for working in this fashion may be some way off, not least if a vaccine continues to prove elusive.
If you are impacted by the proposed move to Snowhill and require assistance and support from Prospect then please do not hesitate to contact us at email@example.com
Additional Travel Costs and the 45 Minute Guidance
Earlier this year Prospect were successful in negotiating improvements to the Additional Travel Costs (ATCs) that the company pay for two years to those who relocate and incur extra expense in doing so. These improvements saw the removal of two caps. Firstly, employees will no longer be penalised by not being paid for the first 20 miles of any additional journey, if they are earning in excess of £43,000. Secondly, the cap of £500 per month has been removed. Therefore, employees will be reimbursed for actual ATCs rather than having them circumscribed by caps.
When Prospect negotiated these improvements there had been a desire by the employer to remove the 45 minute guidance in the current Effective Deployment of Displaced Individuals (EDDI) policy. This states that it may be considered reasonable to offer a job that involves an extra journey time on a regular basis of up to 45 minutes each way, so long as total travelling time does not exceed 90 minutes each way. Clearly, this is termed guidance but the union does believe that it offers safeguards to members in certain circumstances, and not least if they are being asked to commute long distances on a regular basis. Furthermore, Prospect will always work with members and BT during any consultation process to try and reach a consensus on what is reasonable. However, Prospect were not prepared to see the guidance removed and we were successful in retaining it within the EDDI policy.
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 their employees. 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 warm words with actions when it comes to improving conditions for employees.
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/
Prospect represents over 142,000 working people across the UK. We focus on professionals, managers, technical experts and craftspeople working in a huge range of industries. To change your details, please call 0300 600 1878. If you have colleagues who are non-members, please encourage them to join Prospect too. People can join online at www.prospect.org.uk/joinus