BSkyB faces legal challenge

BECTU is backing employment tribunal claims by Scottish call centre staff.

The move follows changes made by Sky in staff terms and conditions including cuts to bank holiday entitlement, alterations in sick pay policy and the slashing of sales bonus schemes.

Staff have been angered by the company's efforts to hack away at key terms and conditions. The moves have been condemned as particularly cynical given increased competition in the Glasgow area for staff. Courage has opened a new base close to Sky's call centre in Livingston prompting many staff to seek to change their employer.

Advice from BECTU's lawyers, Thompsons, has confirmed that Sky would be in breach of contract should the company either insist that staff work on public holidays - currently bank holiday working is voluntary - or insist when staff agree to work on public holidays that pay is only at single time. The measure has prompted widespread resistance from staff, many of who have aired their concerns through the company's grievance procedure.

In another controversial move, the company has tried to move the goalposts by changing sick pay arrangements whilst staff are actually away from work on ill health grounds. Like any contractual term, staff rights to sick leave and sick pay cannot be changed at the whim of the employer. Full consultation with staff isnecessary to see if changes can be mutually agreed.

In the absence of agreement, and where change results in financial loss to employees, claims can be pursued in the tribunal on the basis of unlawful deduction from wages. To maximise compensation such claims should be pursued within three months of the initial deduction.

Elsewhere in the BSkyB empire, BECTU is fighting against pay cuts at Livingston, where the call centre sales teams based at the site are up in arms at changes to their bonus schemes.

Under the pretext of rewarding those staff whose performance is best, staff have seen bonuses slashed resulting in major cuts in take home pay. When the scheme was introduced in March many members reported that typical bonus payments of £600 per month had been slashed by more than half.

Sky's contractual commitment on pay is currently under review by BECTU's advisers to establish if claims are possible.

"These key issues of pay, holidays and sick pay represent matters of greatest concern to workers everywhere. Sky's approach has been quite ruthless in recent months", explained BECTU Scottish Officer Paul McManus. "The company has trampled over the concerns, which they know; matter most to their staff.

"BECTU will do its best to see what can be done for individuals to remedy the situation legally," continued McManus. "However the key to real dialogue with Sky management will be union recognition. To help towards that goal, call centre staff need to continue to organise themselves through the BECTU branches now in place. We need to build on our existing membership and on our network of activists. "Only in this way will staff be able to deal effectively with the challenges presented by management" said McManus.

Members who want to pursue claims in respect of lost holidays, sick pay or loss of sales bonus should contact BECTU's Scottish Office on 0141 248 9558.

3 May 2002