BT People Framework Q and A

12 Jul 2019

Questions and answers about BT’s People Framework.

Q: Why did the union appear powerless to stop the People Framework being implemented before agreement had been reached?

There is no getting away from the fact that BT’s decision to proceed with implementation before agreement was reached damaged the relationship and the negotiating environment.

Every union has to deal with the reality that employers sometimes want to make major changes.

BT was resolute on the need for change. Prospect did not agree to the company’s initial proposals and persistently challenged BT to improve them.

Your feedback through meetings and consultative ballots helped strengthen our position and Prospect was able to negotiate improvements.

More broadly, we and the company agreed that our relationship and how we do business together needed to change. We believe there is genuine intent to bring that about.

Finally, we have challenged the detrimental effects of the People Framework on behalf of hundreds of individual members and gained improvements for many of those negatively affected by its implementation.

 

Q: Why are you recommending agreement on the People Framework despite the perceived lack of progress on the actual PF terms and conditions?

We have made progress on the bottom of E, the top of D and the top and bottom of C career levels. We got the company to move on either the top or bottom of all three career levels where we have most members.

Moving the salary minimum of Band E up by £2,000 means a significant pay increase for our lowest paid members. This is over and above the pay review process and comes from a separate pot.

However, this does not change the fact that we have been unsuccessful in moving BT on some of the other aspects, particularly the top of E level.

That has not been through want of trying or lack of conviction.

Given BT’s intransigence on some of these points, we had two options:

  • to shrug our shoulders and satisfy ourselves that we had done our best
  • to risk an industrial action ballot, with no guarantee of success in either meeting the statutory threshold or moving BT.

The first option would have been irresponsible and the second would have been reckless.

We therefore decided to analyse the impacts and construct an agreement that didn’t box us off and which would allow us to continue to argue for members on the impacts on the pay ranges. These are:

Over range on transition

We have reserved our position to continue defending members and we have had some successes on this. The company has acknowledged this in their letter to us and there is absolutely no doubt on this.

We have not agreed pay cuts, we are not asking members to agree pay cuts, we will never agree pay cuts and we will never give up fighting for members faced with potential pay cuts.

Salary growth for those near the top

We have dealt with this on two fronts. The company offer letter confirms that the salary ranges will be subject to annual review with us as part of the pay review process and we have got Prospect back in the room when it comes to that pay review.

You will have seen that BT has shifted from agreeing the quantum then letting them distribute it how they see fit, to where we are now.

Differentials with team member grades

We rejected what initially appeared to be a fobbing off and turned it into a firm commitment underlined with a robust and agreed process for dealing with it. We are going to tackle this.

 

Q: Does this mean that Prospect has accepted the principle of pay cuts for people over range?

Definitely not. The company recognises this and has referred to this very point in its letter to us.

This is important because it confirms that we can still support members confronted with this – as we have done up to now. We have not compromised our position on this point.

 

Q: Does this mean that Prospect accepts the People Framework salary ranges, the pay review process running this year and lack of pay transparency?

Not at all, we still believe the salary ranges are too broad and too low and that much greater pay transparency is required. But it was important to reach agreement on the pay ranges in order to establish Prospect’s ongoing involvement – we will build from that.

We always accepted that we had to find a new way of carrying out the pay review process, but couldn’t agree to the initial approach of complete managerial discretion. The latest offer gives ongoing Prospect involvement.

 

Q: Is equal pay still on the agenda?

Yes. The letter from the company makes it clear that they accept Prospect’s important contribution to addressing equal pay. BT has confirmed that it shares our commitment to fair and equal pay distribution and will provide the mechanisms to do that.

 

Q: Why the emphasis on union recognition – how does that affect me?

Prospect’s previous recognition agreement only provided formal collective bargaining (ie pay and terms and conditions) for benefit band 1.

This limited our influence for more senior members. We believe that the new recognition agreement with the company will provide us with greater certainty over which grades we can negotiate for, particularly given the introduction of the People Framework.

 

Q: People at career level C do not appear to have proper collective bargaining. Is the union recommending a reduction in the scope of collective bargaining?

No – in fact our remit to represent members increases. The previous agreement only provided full collective bargaining arrangements at benefit band 1, although in practice we negotiated pay and conditions right up to benefit band 3.

These band 1 arrangements have been enhanced and will now cover career levels D and E.

As before, we will seek to have wider arrangements applying in practice and we believe this is also in the company’s interests in terms of efficiency and improved employee engagement.

We will continue to support members at career level C in all aspects of their working lives.

 

Q: What is meant by a “new relationship” with the company?

This is the most important part of the offer.

This company is facing, and will continue to face, some serious challenges. If we are going to do what our members want, we have to change how we do business with the company and the company has to sharpen up how it does business with us.

BT’s determination to introduce the People Framework before negotiations had been concluded illustrates why a change in industrial relations was needed.

We raised this at the highest levels of the company and believe there is a credible way to manage change differently in the future.

We are under no illusions, but we believe this agreement can form the basis for building a better relationship with BT.

This will involve both parties working together to identify and resolve differences at an earlier stage.

It will also be incumbent on the company to share changes that will have an impact on our members’ lives in a timely fashion and not just before they are being implemented.

 

Q: Isn’t BT offering a new relationship just them throwing us warm words?

If we could make one plea to you, it would be to dismiss any notion that we have gratefully lapped up a few crumbs that BT has thrown at us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Prospect took the initiative and argued for this – it wasn’t even on BT’s radar.

BT’s view on the recognition debate was that it was all about mapping collective bargaining arrangements (or not) in BB1-3 across to People Framework levels A to E and the job would be done – see the original offer letter from March.

At a time when the company has expressed a desire to engage more, and more directly, with its employees, it is important that we take every opportunity to reinforce the fundamental role of a trade union to represent its members individually and collectively.

BT’s letter BT clearly acknowledges this with the unequivocal statement “We recognise Prospect as the collective voice of our managerial and professional grades in the United Kingdom”

Finally, BT moved quite a way on this. We have worked hard to convince the company that this can work and we do believe that there is genuine commitment to make it work.

This is underwritten by the exchange of correspondence between Mike Clancy and Philip Jansen and referenced in the offer letter.

While neither Mike nor Philip Jansen were involved in negotiating the details, the principles come from them and we therefore have high-level buy in and potential escalation if we get a wobble.

 

Q: How will the union ensure that the agreement with BT is not just warm words?

It’s a fact that agreements are words, but we absolutely understand the need to make them work, become real and translate into a change of approach to managing employee relations within the business.

We believe BT has a genuine intent to create a better, more collaborative way of working with us.

Therefore, as soon as the agreement is in place, we will be working in partnership with BT to ensure a consistent approach to consultation with the union is adopted at office, CFU and Group levels.

The company must share information on any proposed changes as soon as practicable. There can be no return to implementing fundamental changes to terms and conditions before negotiations with the union have been concluded.

 

Q: How will the union be able to stop the company from acting unilaterally in the future?

We will seek to hold the company to the commitments they have given during recent talks and the undertakings in the new recognition agreement.

For example, working in partnership with the company will be absolutely crucial when dealing with the proposed closure of hundreds of locations across the UK.

This programme will affect almost everyone in the business and it will be vital that the union and BT negotiate agreed outcomes as these fundamental and wide-ranging changes roll-out.

 

Q: What happens if members reject the union’s recommendation to endorse the company’s offer?

If members reject the union’s recommendation BT’s offer will not be implemented.

Many of our lowest paid members will not receive an improvement in pay – and there will not be an agreed approach to negotiating how pay will be distributed in the future.

We will be left with a recognition agreement that is not fit for purpose and this will make it demonstrably more difficult to fight the battles ahead, not least the proposed closure of hundreds of sites across the UK.

Finally, we will need to consider what action can be taken given that BT has made it clear that this is their final offer on the People Framework.

The company did describe the March offer as full and final. However, the members’ ballot reopened that and between that offer and the current one there were several drafts that your negotiators rejected.

That said, the current offer is the final offer and there is nothing more to be achieved through negotiation.

In the absence of negotiations, the only option is a sustained period of industrial action and considerable hardship by members. But there is only a slim chance that BT will change its position – and there is no guarantee that it will.

These are difficult and complex issues.

The draft agreement doesn’t contain everything we want or we would like, but we are convinced it is the best that can be achieved by negotiation at this point.

Negotiations are rarely about getting everything you want or would like. They are about making a judgement on whether you have got what you can get and setting out a strategy underpinned by a plan to deal with the things you didn’t.

Q. Isn’t voting yes endorsing or legitimatising salary cuts?

No. We’ve explained that we have not, and never will, agree that aspect of People Framework and we are not asking you to vote on that. Voting yes does not endorse BT’s approach. More to the point, voting no won’t change BT’s position on this either.

In essence voting no will not take pay cuts away, but it will take away our ability to influence pay distribution in the future. Only voting yes will give us what we need.

 

Q. How many people have had salary reductions so far? I’ve heard its hundreds.

We have asked BT to verify this and as of data available today (July 17 2019) that shows that 32 people have had a salary reduction. Of this number 2 were in 2018 and 30 this year. The total number of people transitioned into PF (as of today) stands at 9196. The percentage therefore affected by salary reduction is 0.35%

We don’t make this point to underestimate or diminish the impact on affected individuals, whether you are part of a community 0.35% or 99.9% big the impact is exactly the same.

We make the point for scale and context.

 

Q. What about the future though? If they get away with it now they will do it again.

We don’t accept that. We wanted BT to say that they would never return to this once PF transition was completed. They stopped just short of that but in the offer letter it does say the following:

From the company’s perspective we believe that this is an appropriate measure to maintain in the circumstances. We accept that when those circumstances change then our approach will need to adapt to reflect the changed circumstances. We confirm that we do not view this as a business as usual tool post people framework implementation and commit to review with Prospect the relevance of this mechanism in the future. Our aim will be to deal with any significant challenges ahead through the strategic involvement process we have articulated above.

We are confident given the company’s statement that this is not a business as usual tool that (in the event members support the package and it becomes an agreement) we can deal with this in the future.