Prudential staff show how to beat offshoring

Fujitsu’s plans to offshore work to low cost countries are at the heart of their proposals for 1800 UK job cuts. Some feel that the job losses are inevitable. But where staff have organised and fought back, they have often won important victories against offshoring. Our recent leaflet explained how you can defend your job. Steve O’Donnell, senior Unite rep at the Prudential, explains how they won earlier this year.

Prudential Staff fight and win against plans to offshore work to Mumbai

Back in May, Prudential announced plans to migrate all the Annuity Servicing and Bereavement work currently undertaken in Reading to Mumbai. The plans would have seen the loss of 82 roles in Reading, 75 of them at Grade 1.

The Company had previously said that this work was too complex to offshore, however, IFRS reporting standards which could legally allow the Company to multiply any savings by up to 40 times and put it straight on the balance sheet, finally proved too tempting for the organisation to resist.

At the time of the announcement Unite membership in the area was 39%.

Unite immediately convened a members meeting and encouraged members to fight the proposals and the members were ready and willing to do so.

The first action was improving membership in the area. Members recognised that they wouldn’t win any fight with such low membership and the members themselves actively went back into the area to recruit new members whilst being open and honest saying that they were doing so in order to fight the company’s proposals.

Within a matter of weeks membership in the area had increased to 60% and the consultation period had ended with no amendments to the proposals.

At the next members meeting an agreed strategy was decided upon.

  1. A ballot for Industrial Action would start with a recommendation for supporting strike action and action short of strike
  2. Action short of strike would comprise of non-cooperation with the Project that was migrating the work – this was crucial but more of that later
  3. Aim of the action would be to save the jobs however, this would work in tandem with a campaign that would be run internally and externally against offshoring.  The campaign would highlight that Offshoring is “Bad for the customer, bad for Prudential and bad for jobs”
  4. Engagement with members not directly impacted by the migration
  5. Engagement with the public, including via the media

It was agreed that we needed to start all the above immediately.

We served notice of the ballot and 3-4 weeks later the result of the ballot showed 100% in favour of action short of strike and 97.2% in favour of action including strike. Turnout was 75% which was excellent as the ballot ran slap bang in the middle of the school summer holidays.

It was the first time members had taken any form of industrial action in the Prudential since 1990.

We then served notice for the start of action short of strike. Because this was non co-operation with the project it had a massive impact.  Migrations can only succeed if the people losing their jobs successfully train the people where the work is going.  If they refuse to undertake that knowledge transfer the Company has to rely on process manuals and people who used to do the work a long time ago to train the workers abroad.  This is exactly what the Prudential tried to do.

By doing this they were using staff unlicensed in the work to do the training. This enabled us to highlight internally and externally that the migration was putting customer service at risk.  Unlicensed staff were training people in the work and then unlicensed staff were checking the work which meant customers were likely to have been receiving incorrect information and/or payments.

Whilst the work to rule was happening members actively leafleted the Reading site and handed out stickers for colleagues to wear showing support for the action. They spoke to colleagues and highlighted that if this migration went ahead further migration of other work could well follow.

They also leafleted the local railway station and over 2000 leaflets were handed out to members of the public highlighting that work from Reading was being offshored.

As a result of that exercise members of the public tweeted their support of the action as well as emailing senior management expressing their concerns with the Offshoring.

We also had very positive press coverage. Our PR campaign to highlight that the offshoring made no business sense and risked customer service struck a chord and all the media coverage was supportive of our campaign.

However, the Company still didn’t want to pull the plug on the offshoring so we announced 2 days of full strike action.

That seemed to spring the Company into action and 48 hours before the strike was due to start the Company announced it had found all 82 people Suitable Alternative roles and that no-one would be made redundant. However, at this stage the migration would continue albeit at a slower pace.

This was enough for us to suspend the Industrial Action as the jobs had been saved. However we continued with the No Offshoring campaign.  This included getting employees signing postcards to the CEO highlighting the issues we had with Offshoring and writing an Open letter expressing our concerns.

With staff now co-operating with the Offshoring further quality issues were highlighted and as the Company tried to get the project back on track they threw more resource at it which had the inevitable consequence that BAU work started falling into backlog.

This again allowed us to highlight that the Offshoring was having a negative impact on Customer Service.

Then just as we started building noise around this, the government did a complete U-turn on its pension policy which meant that the Suitable Alternative roles the 82 people had been offered disappeared overnight.

Members voted to re-start the industrial action short of strike again causing the Offshoring project to fall further behind.

At this stage we had begun to engage with Senior Management and were able to highlight all the issues with the project directly to them. The project was failing and customers were and would suffer if it continued.

The Company then finally announced that they would NOT be Offshoring all the work Mumbai and that they would now be retaining knowledge, skills and roles in Reading and gave us a no compulsory redundancy agreement.

This was the result we had been working for. The jobs were saved and the work would be remaining in Reading – a great victory for the members.

There is still work to be done as they Company are looking at “parts of process” that could be offshored but Unite members are directly engaged in these discussions and have made it clear there will be no offshoring that results in job losses and no offshoring that puts customer service at risk. That work is just starting and there are no timescales yet assigned to it.

This victory was down to Unite members being clear that they would fight the proposal to offshore. They took an active part in the campaign – recruiting non-members, leafleting the site, leafleting outside the train station, taking industrial action (it was solid throughout the dispute), attending and being seen to attend and be active in union meetings and activities.  They agreed the plan and by remaining solid and acting collectively allowed the plan to be implemented successfully which resulted in the Company backing down and withdrawing their plans to migrate all the work to Mumbai. #Solidarity.

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Unite members across Fujitsu Services Limited in the UK are taking industrial as part of their dispute over jobs, union recognition, pay and pensions. Action from 28 February has included strikes and ongoing action short of strike. Further strikes have been called for 22, 25, 26 May.

This follows the recent resolution of a local dispute in Manchester which included 12 strike days.

Further information is available here including events, pickets, a downloadable appeal for support leaflet and how to donate to our strike fund.

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