BT: stop divisive productivity scheme

Submitted by AWL on 23 December, 2002 - 10:19

By Maria Exall

The "Self Motivated Teams" proposals for productivity bonus scheme for 17,000 BT Customer Service Engineers will be recommended by the Telecoms Executive of the CWU to branches at a Special Conference in January. After this there will be a ballot of members affected.

Many Engineering Branches are in principle against productivity pay and have campaigned vigorously against this package. SMT will be the first time that any significant individually-based productivity scheme has operated for BT Engineers.

The SMT scheme will have implications for future pay negotiations. However, the main effects are likely to be cuts in jobs in the long term and an immediate increase in disciplines.

The operation of the national trial has shown how stressful and divisive productivity bonus schemes can be.

Some engineers have consistently earned hundreds of pounds a week, whilst more than 50% have earned less than twenty five pounds a week.

The discrepancies in pay are as much to do with the type of work allocated (which is outside of a field engineers control) as to how many jobs are completed. Trials have led to "changed behaviours", from mysterious increases in activities where more points are awarded, to shortcuts in quality and a disregard for health and safety procedures.

Overall management report an increase in productivity of 9%. Even accepting that this represents a real increase, the question remains whether the rewards will continue at the same rate. As with many productivity bonus schemes, there is a regular reassessing of targets (changing the goalposts) that will result in engineers working harder for less reward.

SMT is unpopular amongst branch activists and many members, despite the more money available, because of the unfairness of the scheme and the way it does not value many important aspects of quality work. There is also a deep mistrust of management in the Customer Service division of BT as a result of their heavy handed policies on "performance management" - including the use of arbitrary targets.

However, BT is prepared to throw a lot of money at the scheme to make engineers feel it is worth, at least initially, taking part. Also overtime has at times been refused and other times run in parallel with SMT in order to boost involvement in the trials.

CWU activists should be making the case against SMT. SMT proves that there is extra money to pay Customer Service Engineers (who are mainly basic engineering grades) , so why not just upgrade all engineers so everyone gets a consolidated, pensionable, fair increase in pay.

The "NewGrid" regrading exercise a couple of years ago did not meet the aspirations of basic grade Customer Service engineers for more pay because of the more complex and pressurised nature of their work, despite this being a stated aim of the negotiations.

If BT were serious about improving productivity they would look at more productive ways of team working that give engineers more control of their working day. Or more investment in the infrastructure of the "local loop" to improve efficiency.

Despite a majority of Broad Left supporting branches and activists being opposed to the SMT scheme the BL-controlled Engineering Executive has decide to recommend the scheme.

This follows on from their decision to hold a national trial at this years CWU Conference, despite opposition. Because of activist opposition and members scepticism there is a real possibility of stopping SMT , however as time goes on, with the union nationally tied in through industrial relations protocol, defeating SMT is made more difficult. Many members think the fight is already over.

The credibility of the union has been called into question over this SMT issue [in a way not seen since the CSIP fiasco] in the early 1990s. Members look to the union to fightback in their interests, not to give in, in practice and in principle.

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