Union busting is alive and kicking
LAST week, telecoms firm Virgin Media announced the result of its ‘referendum’ on union recognition for its engineers, members of CWU and BECTU. The ’result’ – if we can call it that as there were no independent scrutineers – was a slim majority in favour of dropping union recognition; 52% to 48% against.
The ‘result’ came as no surprise to us at CWU. It was in many ways a foregone conclusion with the referendum used to create a semblance of credibility for what the company wanted. There was no level playing field. We were told of the company’s intentions when their letters to staff were already in the post, giving us just two working days until it opened. Oh, and they included people not covered by recognition agreements in the voting pool, perhaps to dilute the pro-union vote.
Virgin Media bombarded its staff with company propaganda in letters, emails and website messages, at compulsory briefings with company directors and even phonecalls from managers to employees who had not yet voted. How did they know? Was this not an anonymous process? And if managers knew who had voted, did they also know which way they voted? These were some of the concerns being passed to us by employees. The company did allow us a short statement on their intranet (described as ‘very difficult to find’ by one employee). We’re told that managers are receiving a break-down of the voting results to see who got the ‘right’ result for the company. What they will do with the information is anyone’s guess.
CWU members, reps and officials have been angry, shocked, disappointed and scared by what has happened. We’ve never had a dispute with the company or got remotely close to an industrial action situation, in fact our relationship has largely been cordial and in the spirit of partnership.
So why has Virgin Media decided to take such an aggressive stance on union recognition? We think there could be a few contributing factors. Firstly, we gained recognition in an outsourced call centre in Liverpool last year after our membership grew way above the 50% needed. The company’s reaction? To close the entire call centre with redundancies for most staff. Secondly, there is a man with union-busting form among Virgin Media’s directors. His name is Ricky Hobden and he was responsible for bringing the union-busting organisation the Burke Group into Cable and Wireless when CWU was going for recognition there in 2008. He is now a regional director in the engineering Access division and appears to be up to his old tricks.
Virgin Media has now torn up the jointly held recognition agreements and disregarded the three-month notice period written in them, even preventing CWU Virgin Media reps attending a longstanding scheduled meeting due to take place the day after the result and a union safety reps training course has been cancelled.
As readers of UnionHome will know, trade unions exist to independently represent and protect people at work. Companies shouldn’t fear trade unions unless they have bad practices or something to hide.
CWU isn’t going anywhere. Our membership has increased on the back of Virgin Media’s referendum and we’ll continue to grow our membership and remain an independent voice for Virgin Media employees. Union busting is clearly alive and well, but the CWU is here for the long-haul.
Andy Kerr is CWU deputy general secretary
CWU, union busting