Push for recognition at BSkyB

BECTU is urging BSkyB members to recruit colleagues in a bid to win union recognition.

In a letter to existing members at BSkyB workplaces, including the satellite broadcaster's call centres, the union has reported that its drive to attract new recruits has been given a warm welcome.

Staff throughout the company have been contacting the union for advice on disciplinary and grievance cases since the union launched its recruitment offensive last year. BECTU official are now allowed to accompany staff facing formal interviews with managers.

Off-site meetings have been held to allow staff to vent their feelings about the company's lack of consultation over changes, and a new formula for bonuses which has made it more difficult for call center staff to earn extra payments.

In Scotland, where BSkyB runs two large call centres, staff are said to have responded positively to BECTU's participation in the "It's your call" campaign run by the TUC across the UK.

The union is planning to use new trade union legislation to win formal recognition at the company, which would open the way to full negotiations on issues like pay and working conditions.

Over the coming months the union will be trying to sign up as many new members as possible at BSkyB, and will also be distributing pledge cards with which staff can indicate their support for union recognition.

Letter sent to BECTU members at BSkyB

29 March 2001

To All Members in the Following Branches:
Sky Dunfermline, Sky Livingston, Sky Regions, Sky London, and Sky South Wales (to include Sky call centre staff, Sky In-Home Service Engineers and Sky Production and Resource staff at Osterley).

Dear Colleague

Sky Recognition Campaign

As you know BECTU has been running a significant campaign for union recognition with your employer for well over a year now. I write to update you on the progress of that campaign and to let you know of our plans for 2001.

Firstly, you need to know that the campaign has been welcomed by Sky staff. Whenever we have visited the various sites, staff have welcomed us and have been keen to take our material. What is not in doubt however, is that the company's reputation as an anti-trade union employer has inhibited large numbers of your colleagues from being actively involved in our activities. However that situation is beginning to change.

Sky Call Centres

In 2000, BECTU leafleted the sites at Dunfermline and Livingston on multiple occasions; open meetings were held which enjoyed the support of local politicians and our official in Scotland Paul McManus. As a result of these contacts, the union has provided advice and assistance to individual members as well as representation in grievance hearings. Great news for 2001 is that a branch committee has now been formed in Dunfermline.

Our relationship with staff has established that there are several areas of concern: the relentless pressure of calls; poor physical conditions with inadequate heating and ventilation systems; an unsympathetic management and the lack of an open and fair pay and grading structure.

Our work with call centre staff will continue in 2001 and the campaign will increase its public profile; the union is also a key supporter of the TUC's Call Centre campaign launched last month.

Sky Engineers

Sky employs some 3000 engineers across the country; as a result of organisational changes last summer they no longer assemble regularly at designated bases and this has made contact with them difficult. Despite this, the response from engineers to BECTU's approach has been very encouraging. Local meetings are being held - with more in the pipeline - and key supporters are being identified. As with call centres, members are now beginning to organise their own branches.

Individual advice has been offered to members and assistance and representation has been provided to members under the disciplinary procedure. As you know, all trade union members, irrespective of union recognition, have the legal right to be accompanied to meetings held under the grievance or disciplinary procedures. If you have a difficulty, using BECTU will make the difference.

Key issues for the engineers are pay, bonus payments, health and safety and seven-day working.

In 2001 we will continue to develop our contacts. In this way, we can build the network that is essential to making all Sky engineers aware of the services available from BECTU.

Sky Osterley

In 2000, officials leafleted the Sky base on several occasions and at different times of the day. Meetings were held with interested members where the staff's need for representation was made clear. Communication from and with managers is widely accepted to be poor. The frustration which staff feel is set in the context of a situation where no transparent pay and grading system exists leading to considerable pay inequality. Health and safety is cited as a key concern amongst production and resource grades of staff.

By the end of last year, several members came to BECTU offering assistance with the campaign; in addition members have also been confident enough to exercise their new legal rights to representation. Here too, BECTU has assisted members with disciplinary and grievance issues.

In 2001 BECTU will continue with its regular visits to the site. In addition, the intention is to raise the public profile of the campaign and to enlist support for staff particularly in the run-up to the General Election.

When do we go for recognition?

While there is no question in our minds that staff in general would support union recognition, the attitude of the company has clearly slowed the pace of members joining BECTU. The key and obvious point to make however is that without members, BECTU cannot reach the critical mass required to go forward with a claim for recognition under the new law.

If BECTU were to have more than 50 per cent of members within the proposed bargaining unit (the defined group of staff for whom we are seeking recognition) then we could make a claim to the government body - the Central Arbitration Committee - for automatic recognition. This is the best position for BECTU to be in going forward.

As an alternative, BECTU would need just 10 per cent of staff in order to make a claim to the CAC which, if accepted, would lead to a ballot of staff to judge the level of support for union recognition. In Sky's terms this would mean 700 call centre staff in membership; 300 engineers and 400 members in Osterley. While our support is growing it has to be said that we are some way from achieving the minimum 10 per cent required - however with your help these figures are achievable. Interested staff need to join now; that way we will be able to go for recognition much sooner.

Plans for 2001

Organise, organise, organise! Recruit, recruit, recruit! As indicated earlier, we will be putting more resources into the campaign in order to spread our message as widely as possible both in terms of members and the public. Some stickers are enclosed - do use them.

At future leafleting sessions, we will be asking you and your colleagues to pledge your support for the campaign by completing a card and returning it to us. This activity will satisfy the new law requirements in terms of evidence of support for union recognition. Please note however that when we invoke the legal process, we will not share this information with the employer. So we urge you to complete the details on the card in full.

We are also looking at setting up online chat rooms for Sky staff. More details will follow. In the meantime, if you are online do visit our website at www.bectu.org.uk to find out more about the Sky campaign and BECTU activities across the range of employers we deal with.

In the meantime, while we work for a significant breakthrough in the campaign, do make sure you take advantage of BECTU's additional services (the latest leaflet is enclosed). If you have a query about your employment do get in touch. If you need assistance with a grievance or disciplinary matter remember that you now have the legal right to be accompanied by your trade union official to these meetings. And remember our legal services can help with employment or private matters.

If you have any comments about the campaign so far or about our plans for 2001, please do contact us. We will be very pleased to hear from you. A couple of application forms are enclosed - do pass them on. We will keep you up to date with our progress.

With best wishes.

Yours sincerely

Sharon Elliott
Supervisory Official
Independent Broadcasting
Paul McManus
Scottish Officer
Tel. 0141 248 9558

6 April 2001