30 March 2021
Great Western Branch Chair AGM Report 2021
31 March 2021

Secretary’s Report (Incorporating the Political Officers report)

March 2021

Dear Member

This past year has seen the branch change the way it engages with its members not only because of the pressures from the Covid 19 Pandemic but because of the call for strike action.

The Covid 19 restrictions have made it impossible to meet members and represent them on a face-to-face basis. This has meant that the officers have been based at home rather than in Union Offices. However, the demand for union services and support has increased not least because of the redundancies within BT group but also with the non-recognised companies and concerns around the safety of their workplace. As an example of the branch’s effectiveness outside of BT, we now have regular video meetings with the CEO of Woven and have inspected their site in Bristol to ensure compliance to the Covid 19 government recommendations.

The level of disciplines has not, however, declined nor has the level of unfair treatment of our members. The number of equality and discrimination cases has risen and this can be seen by the level of cases that have proceeded to ACAS and the Employment Tribunal.

To compliment the Industrial Relations activity our Health and Safety team have continued to inspect, report and highlight concerns throughout the BT real estate within our branch geography. Their input and reporting of breaches have been key in safeguarding our members.

The branch invested heavily in sanitizer and has distributed thousands of the bottles to our members. Masks and ‘safety handles’ were also distributed to our members.

To facilitate home working the branch has invested in desks and chairs for those officers who needed them. This may seem like an unnecessary expense but I would ask you to consider the alternative especially when our union promotes a safe and an acceptable workplace. Not to do so would have been contrary to the values we promote.

Officers have continued with online training with the exception of the Adult MHFA Mental Health First Aider course ,which was held just prior to lock down and meant we could learn as a group in our Bournemouth learning centre.

I’m especially delighted to report that our proportionality exceeds the make-up of our membership and we now have 4 women officers fulfilling the roles of, BAME, Equality, LGBTQ+ and Women’s Officers.

Our communication has improved, we now reach our members through email, Website, Facebook, App, WhatsApp, Text and Twitter. This is a rapid departure for the dual line of communications that were prevalent a few years ago.

Our retired members have made a significant contribution to the branch this year and I am especially grateful for the ‘telephone banking’ that they undertook for us. Around 2800 telephone calls were made by the retired members, which enabled the branch to update its records to levels that has not been achieved before.

As you will be aware, an electronic consultative ballet took place for our BT membership and returned a 97.7% ‘Yes’ return for the ‘CountMeIn!’ Campaign. The activism continues with another database cleanse prior to a postal ballot for Strike action. This will be the second ballet for strike action. We have the BT RPE engineers on regular strike days to protect the erosion of grades within that business unit.

For clarity I list below the reason for the call for strike actions and the ‘CountMeIN!’ Campaign.

In essence these are the issues:

  • The company wants to change the pension agreement that we accepted in 2018.This will be the result of the mass closure of sites and consolidation in the ‘Better Work Place Program’ throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. It started last year. It means that members will lose their jobs if they cannot re-locate. It means less opportunity for our members to progress. The off-shoring of jobs reduces employment opportunities for our members. Cost cutting through the removal of heads under the guise of efficiency is rife.
  • Compulsory redundancies.This will be the result of the mass closure of sites and consolidation in the ‘Better Work Place Program’ throughout the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. It started last year. It means that members will lose their jobs if they cannot re-locate. It means less opportunity for our members to progress. The off-shoring of jobs reduces employment opportunities for our members. Cost cutting through the removal of heads under the guise of efficiency is rife.
  • Remote working.Despite selling and delivering the technology that enables individuals to work from remote locations, a vital service proven of late, the company refuses to allow remote working when a site is closed, making it impossible for those members who need to work remotely to remain in employment.
  • Grading.The company has repeatedly carried out the re-grading of roles and introduced new grades without the agreement of the CWU. This is outside of the recognised agreements and is a threat to all our members because invariably pay rates for the unagreed grades are lower than existing rates. This is what the CWU refers to as the’ race to the bottom’. It affects all our members who wish to progress. New joiners find themselves being paid less than an incumbent doing the same work! That is unfair.
  • Pay.You are key workers. You have delivered throughout the pandemic. A pay rise, which reflects your magnificent effort and loyalty should be forthcoming coming, it isn’t.
  • New Technology.The CWU has not shied away from change over the past years because of the introduction of new technology. It has worked with the company for mutual benefit. This approach is now rejected by the company, leaving the CWU with very little option other than to ask you to show your anger at the company’s contempt for you. You can do this by voting ‘YES’. All our members are affected by the issues above. In the near future, we will be publishing a flow chart, which will identify your business area and the threats you will be facing. Unless we change the trajectory of the current business strategy, the company is focused on pursuing, many of us will lose our livelihoods or be disadvantaged.

The branch is now returning to full functionality with the appointment of a Learning Co-ordinator. This post will be facilitating learning opportunities for all our members but we are looking to expand its scope in supporting those individuals facing redundancy as outlined in the publication of Redundancy Law (Section 4, ‘Redundancy Law’, Labour Research Department, LRD Publications Ltd/London, November 2019).

Section 4 states ;

  • Finding out learning and support need and organising learning activities in the work place, such as CV workshops, job search, Skills for Life, ICT and financial management courses;
  • Provide advice and information on learning opportunities, including referring people to adult career advice services such as Next step (or providing this advice if qualified); and
    – Working with external bodies such as learning providers and Jobcentre Plus.

I include in this report our political activity, as I have the privilege of being the Political Officer for the branch. In the past year we have continued to affiliate to local CLPs where we can encourage a response. We have contributed (from the political fund) to the election funds for the Labour party and the CWU’s candidate for the Metro Mayoral elections. We have contributed to the Bristol Mayor and Metro Mayor election funds. A video will be forthcoming from the Bristol Mayor expressing his support for our cause.

The branch wrote to every sitting MP and Lord to express its concern around offshore working and redundancies as part of its ‘CountMeIN! Campaign. This was done to raise awareness, gather support and make sure that our that leaders were informed of the cynical move by BT when we were in lockdown. The responses are on our website should you wish to view them.

To conclude, the branch is functioning well despite the difficult circumstances and is gearing up for the next ballot. There is of course room for improvement and I am sad to report that I have had cause to write to all our officers concerning the way in which we engage with each other. A united branch is key to its success and is instrumental in delivering a ‘Yes’ vote in these coming months and so I want to address a number of issues.

At the heart of branch is the membership, the ‘mantra’ for our branch is on our banner; ‘Those who do not move do not notice their chains’. This is a quote from Rosa Luxemburg, a German Marxist who was the Nazis’ first assassination. The point is this, our branch is moving towards becoming a progressive and inclusive organisation, as indicated by our banner. To do that our officers are encouraged to ‘think outside box’ and adopt a ‘can do attitude’.

With this in mind ideas are floated, explored, assessed for their merit and either dismissed or adopted on your behalf through the BCCM upon the recommendations of the Finance Committee. I have heard from our members, concerns about the branch buying a van and that officers’ mortgages have been paid. I can categorically assure you that the branch has not purchased a van. It has not paid any officer’s mortgage. It is however looking at the merits or not, as the case may be, of a van to reach our membership.

Additionally, our accounts are audited on a regular basis and have been approved by our own auditors and CWU HQ auditors. If there are doubts about the integrity and honesty of our officers you have the right to ask our Finance Secretary to investigate. In fact, my own expenses were investigated following the purchase of a car.

The elections are overdue for the officer posts. We consulted with CWU HQ and they are postponed for a short period while the covid 19 situation unfolds. I will of course inform you of the election dates as soon as I am able to.

I have every confidence in our full-time officers. I believe they try to serve the membership to the best of their ability in what are difficult times for us all.

I hope this report has given you all an insight into how the branch is progressing and allayed any fears you have concerning mis-appropriation. I am proud of what we have achieved so far as members

In solidarity


Neil Crothall
Secretary Great Western Branch