The CWU has informed BT that it will ballot the 16,000 engineers who work for Customer Service to halt the unagreed "Self Motivated Teams" productivity bonus scheme. BT have introduced a "voluntary" SMT scheme and are pressing members to opt in, despite union opposition. The CWU is demanding withdrawal of the unagreed scheme before any talks on ending the current standoff.
According to management figures nearly six thousand members have participated or are participating in the unagreed scheme. The job of the union is now to persuade members to take part in industrial action to stop SMT when management are putting out propaganda saying the scheme will stay.
It is difficult to see what compromise could be reached as many members and activists are against any version of the SMT, having experienced its stressful and divisive nature in previous trials. The management have little to gain pushing forward with an unpopular scheme, but the union will lose ground if SMT is not stopped.
Some CWU branches are arguing for the general issue of low pay in BT to be taken up whilst the SMT dispute is on. There is support for an upgrading claim for engineers affected, who are mostly the basic engineering grades, earning no more than £19,000 basic pay. Unfortunately the telecoms executive is not pursuing this policy, and staking all on delivery of a negative vote against SMT.
Sooner or later, however, the issue of increases in pay will have to be addressed. The 2003 union pay claim for all BT plc staff is for 6%. This is pitched at roughly the same rate as previous years, when the outcome has been about the same as Retail Price Index. This year, for the CWU members currently being balloted, this will not do!