Any of our business? Human Rights and the UK private sector - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by Cable & Wireless plc


  Cable & Wireless plc welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Joint Committee on Human Rights' inquiry. The application of human rights is taken seriously by Cable & Wireless, which operates through two separate operating units—Worldwide and CWI.

  The evidence submitted to the Committee on 1 May 2009 specifically highlights Cable & Wireless with regard to "freedom of association and the right to bargain collectively". Therefore it is this aspect of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention which this response focuses on.

  The wider principles of Human Rights are outlined in the recently revised Cable & Wireless Ethics Policy which replaces the Code of Ethics and Business Principles previously referred to in the Committee's evidence. This is available at:


  The Communications Workers Union (CWU) applied for statutory union recognition in C&W Field Services in May 2007. C&W Field Services is part of the Cable & Wireless Worldwide operating unit. It comprised approx 360 employees representing 7% of Worldwide's total 5,000 employees.

  Following the CWU's application, the Central Arbitration Committee (CAC) designated the Field Service team as an "appropriate bargaining unit" for union recognition. C&W Worldwide decided to challenge this decision due to the relatively small size of the unit and concerns about potential fragmentation.

  The process was therefore delayed for a few months whilst a Judicial Review hearing reviewed whether the CAC's interpretation of an "appropriate bargaining unit" could lead to fragmentation within the Field Services team. The CAC decision was upheld and on 4 April 2008, the CAC ordered a workforce ballot as the best way to decide the most appropriate form of colleague representation.

  The Burke Group (TBG) referred to in the evidence submitted to the Committee, was engaged by Cable & Wireless to advise on the statutory recognition process as it was unfamiliar to Cable & Wireless. TBG helped Cable & Wireless to implement a fact-based approach to the ballot—enabling managers to inform their teams about union recognition and what it would mean for them.

  The Burke Group did not interface directly with employees in the bargaining unit but were engaged to support the process.

  Cable & Wireless Worldwide had two primary concerns re the bid for union recognition. Firstly that separate collective bargaining would duplicate and undermine the good work being carried out by our Employee Consultation Forum (ECF). Secondly, that union recognition represents the view of union members only, not all employees, whereas the ECF represents all employees (whether union members or not).

  Both C&W and the CWU had equal access to colleagues during the 20 day ballot process. The turnout for the vote was very high—92% of Field Services employees voted. The vote was substantially against the CWU—77% voted against the CWU being assigned the rights to negotiate their pay, working hours and holidays.


  Cable & Wireless is committed to the principles of collective workplace representation. Our preference is to represent colleagues' views through our in-house consultative body—the Employee Consultation Forum (ECF) rather than through union recognition. The ECF represents everyone across the business and is driven by elected colleagues representing the views of their peers.

  The business is committed to the ECF because it is direct, inclusive and built upon the principle of mutual interest whilst at the same time not conflicting with the right of individual colleagues to hold union membership. We believe this is the best way to create a positive culture in our organisation which will enable our colleagues to deliver great service to our customers.


  The Cable & Wireless ECF was formally established 15 years ago to represent the views and interests of all employees in Cable & Wireless. The company is legally required to, and wants to, inform and consult the ECF on a range of business, employment and organisational matters. Our ECF's constitution makes clear, both in letter and practice, that its activities go way beyond this statutory minimum.

  The ECF gives senior managers the opportunity to get feedback and take account of ECF views before implementing business changes. It is also an important forum for ECF delegates to represent the opinions and concerns of employees.

  There are 18 ECF delegates, each representing employees in a discrete constituency. The constituency map is constantly changing to ensure that ECF keeps abreast of the changes in the organisation.

  The ECF has successfully challenged a number of business-driven changes resulting in a better outcome for employees, and is able to put forward its own proposals on how to make Cable & Wireless a better place to work through:

    — Regular meetings with Exec/Leadership Team.

    — Extraordinary meetings at either side's request.

    — Key Health & Safety legal responsibility.

    — Detailed participation in working groups progressing critical issues such as:

    — Pay Review principles.

    — Bonus Scheme design.

    — Transformation activities.

    — Career Paths.

    — "Straight Talking" performance management.

    — HR Policies.

    — Consultation with local management.

    — Direct communications with constituents, including dedicated listening groups and open site surgeries.


  We respect every individual's legal right to belong to a trade union (or not) and we are committed to the principles of collective workplace representation. However our preference is for colleagues' views to be represented through our in-house consultative body—the Employee Consultation Forum—and not via union recognition as the ECF recognises the views of all employees.

  The facts that the Field Services team chose overwhelmingly not to recognise the CWU as their representative body shows that the Cable & Wireless employees prefer the ECF method of representation.

  The Burke Group was employed to support Cable & Wireless as the company had no previous experience of the union recognition process.

30 July 2009

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Prepared 16 December 2009