Covid-19 Update

Covid-19 Update

Update on discussions with BT regarding Covid 19 global pandemic. 

  • BT consulting with Prospect at every step on easing lockdown measures.
  • Unions are helping ensure it is safe to go back into offices where work cannot be done at home
  • Your Union Representatives are playing a key role in keeping members safe. Contact them if you have concerns.

As we are all too aware, the Covid 19 global pandemic is causing huge economic and social disruption. It has resulted in many millions of workers being furloughed and in some instances losing their jobs, as business activity has been reduced to zero in many sectors of the economy.  BT has been insulated from some of the harsher impacts of the pandemic, but you will have seen from last week’s financial results and reports that there will be ongoing challenges for the business in terms of maintaining its revenues and profits.

Prospect are now meeting with the company regularly to discuss the impact of Covid 19 and the measures BT are putting in place to mitigate the effects. The issue at the top of the consultation agenda for Prospect and BT is ensuring that any risk to our members from the virus is minimised as much as possible. This has seen BT move to a largely remote working operation, in line with the government advice that if you can work from home then you should do so. Clearly, the government advice has become more nuanced, although some might say confusing over the past week. The definitive “stay at home” slogan has been replaced by the more ambiguous “stay alert” message. However, from a Prospect perspective we maintain the view that the best way to protect workers and minimise risk is by ensuring that people who can work from home continue to do so, unless there is an urgent or essential reason for them to enter the workplace.

As part of our consultation with BT the company have shared some broad principles about how offices would be repopulated on a phased basis. These include details of office layouts and desk plans that take account of social distancing. However, we understand that any return plan is contingent on government guidance and despite the change of slogan to “stay alert”, this remains that those who can work from home should work from home. Therefore, all the time the guidance is in place the union will be maintaining our position that only urgent or essential tasks should be performed in an office environment.

A key concern that the union has is around a permissive or devolved approach to office working. You may have been sent a questionnaire from BT which includes a preferences section on office working. However, the union have been assured by the company that any preferences expressed will not change the current approach to home-working and certainly at least until the government guidance has changed. Furthermore, the union has been told that the essential roles that are required in the office will be determined by the business with HR support. Moreover, the union would expect to be consulted on what these roles are and the need for them to be performed in an office environment.

A further complicating factor in determining a return to office working is the different approaches being taken by the devolved administrations – in Scotland and Wales the respective Governments have made it clear that “stay home” remains their overarching message. At this stage BT are taking a pan-UK approach and it is Prospect’s view that this should remain the case. There is also evidence of the disproportionate impact that Covid 19 is having on some sections of our communities. Therefore, the union is pushing BT to undertake Equality Impact Assessments for BAME workers and other protected groups. 

Members have also been asking about the current position of the Better Workplace Programme. The union have been told that the programme has not changed, but inevitably there is little happening at the moment in respect of moving people into new locations. Clearly, we can all speculate on the future of office working and particularly sites that are projected to contain many thousands of employees. Indeed, the global economy could be heading for some profound changes in the way we work as a result of the pandemic and BT will not be immune from these.

Finally, it is worth reflecting that unions are now at the heart of the national debate on combatting Covid 19 and restarting the economy. They are also playing a key role in ensuring that people are kept safe and that transmission of the virus is minimised. In BT the union has continued its work in meeting with the company collectively and representing many of our members individually. Your reps, who volunteer to help members, deserve our thanks for keeping the union going during this crisis and being on hand to provide vital support to colleagues at this difficult time.        

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