Virgin Media steals union recognition

The Communication Workers Union today (Thursday) accuses Virgin Media of “stealing” trade union recognition from its staff following the company’s result of a referendum on union recognition.

Despite the company giving CWU less than a week’s notice on the referendum, and bombarding staff with company messages urging them to vote for derecognition, the supposed result was a very slim 52% to 48% in favour of the company’s position.

Virgin Media has now torn up the jointly held recognition agreements and disregarded the three-month notice period written in them. The company prevented CWU Virgin Media reps from attending a longstanding pre-scheduled meeting which was due to take place today, an aggressive move which effectively ends union recognition with immediate effect.

Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, said: “Today is a poor day for democracy. We’re bitterly disappointed in the way that Virgin Media has conducted this flawed referendum on a basic human right for trade union recognition at work.

“Despite the pressure and access which Virgin Media used to influence this referendum the supposed result is very poor for the company’s position and an incredibly weak mandate for severing union recognition.

“Virgin Media has stolen union recognition from its staff. Even with the unlevel playing field they used to run this referendum they didn’t manage to get a ringing endorsement for their position. There’s been no independent scrutiny of the result and a general lack of transparency. We’re still at a loss as to why the company made this decision and are concerned about what it may mean for Virgin media staff.

“Our message to Virgin Media, its staff and our members is clear. CWU isn’t going anywhere. We will continue to build our membership and represent the views and interests of Virgin Media staff with a genuinely independent voice. We hope the company changes its position and comes to see the value of partnership with an independent trade union and moves away from its union busting antics.”

Virgin Media staff have told CWU that they were called to compulsory briefings led by company directors in which they put the company’s position on union recognition and urged people to vote for derecognition. Staff have also told CWU that some people were called up at home by managers asking them to vote yes because they had not already voted. This calls into question the independence of the referendum as many staff were concerned that managers knew who had voted and who hadn’t, with some questioning whether they also knew which way people had voted.

CWU believes the referendum held by Virgin Media is flawed for several reasons:

The company included staff outside of the areas covered by union recognition agreements, making the voting pool bigger than those who were directly affected.

The company gave less than a week’s notice to CWU from the start date of the referendum, giving the union little time to respond to the situation (CWU notified on the afternoon of Friday 2nd November with the referendum opening on Wednesday 7th and apparently running until Friday 16th November).

The company had already prepared its communications to staff before informing CWU of its intention to hold the referendum (letter to Virgin Media engineers arrived at their homes on Saturday 3rd November meaning they were already in the post before the company spoke to CWU).

Virgin Media had direct access to staff which it used extensively to push its own propaganda about why the company wanted staff to vote for derecognising trade unions. By contrast, CWU was permitted one short statement on the company’s intranet which many staff said was difficult to find. No other direct access was allowed by the company.

CWU had recognition for parts of the Virgin Media engineering workforce. There have been no disputes in the history of that recognition partnership, no strikes and no breakdown in relations which would have led to industrial action.

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