When Pete Pearson faced problems at work, it was his union that steered him through them. His experiences inspired him to become a rep himself.
Currently an Openreach manager for Broadband Delivery UK, Pete Pearson has worked for BT for 35 years. He also chairs the Prospect committee representing Openreach members across the UK.
The separation of Openreach, the engineering arm, from the rest of BT is on the horizon. This will be a major change for employees, says Pete.
Prospect has raised concerns about the potential impact on job security, terms and conditions and future career progression and Pete believes there is no more important time for people to join the union.
His own career began in BT’s Property division, where he worked his way up to become BT’s innovation and workplace design manager. Always a union member, he became active in 2008, at the time of the economic crash, when financial pressures threw up doubts about the future of his role.
Amid the uncertainty, Pete became one of the first targets of the unpopular performance management system. After previous ratings of “good”, his manager marked him down and he was put on a performance improvement plan.
Although Pete came through this process successfully, he was very quickly moved into the BT Transition Centre for employees seeking other roles in the company.
“I got through this difficult time thanks to help from Prospect reps,” he says. Realising others were facing similar problems, he offered his help and was co-opted on to the BT East Essex branch committee.
From the Transition Centre, Pete secured a seven-month secondment to the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, a BT-backed charity that provides support for elite and aspiring athletes and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“It was a life-defining experience,” says Pete. “I was 46, had done 25 years in property and didn’t think I could do anything else. But it showed me my ability to adapt and gave me the confidence to apply for jobs I never thought I could do, leading to my current role.”
As a union rep, he launched into casework, helping individuals with issues like performance management, absences, stress and disciplinaries.
“I loved it. I was helping people get over that bump in the road in their career. I felt valued, appreciated and that I was doing something special.
“With Prospect you have someone to lean on and guide you. It helps put things into perspective. As a rep my job is to take out the emotion, bring clarity and try to find a solution, and in most cases members do get through it.
“I hadn’t realised the passion and resources that go into supporting members. There’s a huge amount of work behind the scenes.”
Most recently, Pete was co-opted to the Openreach Industrial Relations Committee, and is now its chair. “That’s where it became really interesting. We are directly involved with senior managers discussing future programmes and policies, and have the opportunity to influence how the company implements these.”
For example, Prospect persuaded the employer to treat a manager development programme as a voluntary coaching process rather than a formal assessment, making it “something people wanted to do”.
Managers would not have received a pay rise this year without Prospect’s intervention, Pete says.
The recent pensions negotiations were more difficult. Prospect took a “common sense” approach and was “brave enough to explore different options with the employer”, he believes. The union secured improved transition arrangements for those moving from the old scheme and improvements for those already in the newer scheme (see page 16).
“My mantra is that it’s better to be around the table talking than shouting from outside. Although not always successful, we are listened to and some of our ideas are taken on board. This helps the company to succeed, but also improves life for the members, so it’s a win-win situation.
“I want Openreach to be the best place in the world to work, offering the best jobs with the best terms and conditions. However, to achieve that we need a successful business. If I can help make that happen in a small way, I am doing my job.”