The latest round of strike action at Fujitsu's IT services offices in Manchester will draw to a close on 28 February, with members fighting to defend their jobs from a Europe-wide restructuring programme called Agenda 2020 amidst allegations of unfair discrimination and targeting of union officials.
A protest in London yesterday meanwhile accused the company of victimising whistle-blowers speaking up for fellow workers and accusing Fujitsu of "using the cover of redundancies to get rid of workers who blew the whistle on unethical and possibly illegal company behaviour."
It is the latest in a long-running series of industrial disputes, dating back to the turn of the decade but coming into sharp focus with Fujitsu's 'Agenda 2020' restructuring programme, which put jobs from its offices all across the UK, including Manchester, Belfast, Bracknell, Crewe, Derry/Londonderry, London, Solihull, Stevenage, Wakefield and Warrington, at risk.
The PCS union previously published a report (unrelated to this dispute) on Fujitsu's Agenda 2020 initiative, noting that it hit the UK & Ireland region for jobs particularly hard. In it, the union notes that Fujitsu states that it wants to centralise its global operations and improve its profit margins (although they remain profitable), turning to relocating jobs, automation, and offshoring to ‘Global Delivery Centres' based mainly in Poland, India, Portugal and Russia to achieve this.
"It will not surprise members to learn that their main attraction is more that they are particularly cheap in terms of employee costs compared to the UK and other western European countries," the union noted.
Unite and Fujitsu have butted heads previously.
The first substantial national agreement for Unite workers at Fujitsu was won after 10-day national strike action between 2009 and 2010. A 1.5 day local strike in September 2003 won members five days more of annual leave and sick pay from their first day at their roles, while a 12-day local strike between 2006 and 2007 defended and extended union recognition, plus pay increases, and facilities for reps and members.
In June 2016, Unite reps met with Fujitsu and ACAS to contend that Fujitsu had not paid the November 2015 'Living Wage', had offshored work without consultation, tried to take a Unite rep's job without consultation, and would not listen to the union's concerns about a change to pensions. The leaflet is available to read here.
The current struggle stems largely from Agenda 2020.
"In 2016 they announced what they called Agenda 2020, which was a lot of job reductions – they had proposed 1,800 job cuts in the UK," says Ian Allinson, chair of Unite at Fujitsu UK who was recently dismissed under what Fujitsu claimed to be redundancy grounds. "That's still ongoing and taking place over quite a long period. So many of those job losses have happened, but there's still people employed now who are at risk and are trying to keep their jobs."
Allison was dismissed on 12 January and was informed of the news while he was on compassionate leave for a family funeral. He writes in his blog: "They didn't even allow me to work my notice despite the fact I had an outstanding job application they hadn't responded to – for a job they had encouraged me to apply for," he writes on his blog. "My redundancy was a fix to victimise me for my union activity – I was in a tiny fake selection pool where Fujitsu claimed all the jobs were to go, avoiding any scoring."
"The dismissals started in 2017 and there were a number of [Unite] reps who had been targeted at that point," he tells Computerworld UK. "But it took quite a while for that to work through. People were challenging it through the appeal and grievance processes, and so on.
"Some reps, and many employees for that matter, did lose their jobs during 2017. But those were people up until the end of 2017 who accepted going, even if they felt it was unfair, they felt they were better off out of there or whatever.
"What changed at the end of 2017 is we started to see members being dismissed who were fighting to stay. The first of those was in December 2017. I was the first of the reps who were fighting to stay to be dismissed."
The dispute perhaps is a lens into wider trends in the sector. Under all of its various guises, DXC, formerly HP Enterprise Services (and before that CSC) arguably has something of a track record in conducting layoffs. For Fujitsu workers, as many as 400 sackings were planned for workers in Finland and up to 500 in Germany.
Immediate goals for Fujitsu workers in the UK include fighting against the dismissals of these union reps, as well as the way the redundancies have been handled.
"They've been breaking many of the agreements they have with the union and we see that as part of the overall picture where they're trying to pick off reps speaking up on behalf of employees," Allison says. "They're trying to show that they can dismiss people even when it's not really necessary – that they can choose who to dismiss rather that it being done on a volunteer basis, and just to show they can get away with breaking agreements they've reached.
"We feel they're trying to seriously weaken the union by picking people off and demonstrating they can do that and get away with it, and we're determined to make sure they can't."
Fujitsu claims that the drivers for these job losses are off-shoring and automation. But Allison points out that the company is profitable and has taxpayer-funded contracts in the UK.
"Within that we are seeing some workers brought from low wage countries to the UK, in some cases simply to do the work on lower wages, and in some cases to effectively train up and take the work to their home country with them," he says.
"[But] the key thing for us is that it wouldn't matter whether work was taken from – I'm based in Manchester – if it was moving to London or Liverpool or Belfast, if the employer is getting away with paying people less for doing the same work, that is simply trying to profit from treating workers worse.
"The fact that it's a different country – in one sense it's neither here nor there. It's the fact they're trying to profit by paying people less.
"Fujitsu makes a lot of money out of the UK, much of it from the public purse, and our view is where they've got workers who are employed they should be making sure they behave in a responsible fashion to all of them."
Timeline of the dispute: 2016 - present
28 February 2018: week-long strike action draws to a close
Final day of the latest week-long round of strike action from 22-28 February.
27 February 2018: protesters accuse Fujitsu of victimising whistle-blowers
National officer for Unite Louisa Bull said: "Unite believes that Fujitsu is trying to silence whistle-blowers by dismissing some, and showing that it can make compulsory redundancies even when these are in breach of its agreements, employees' contracts or the law.
"Taxpayers and clients need to know what is going on at Fujitsu, those blowing the whistle should not be sacked.
"Unite is demanding transparency and the reinstatement of our union representative. It is also time to end the unfair targeting of Unite members fighting for their jobs and for Fujitsu to adhere to its own agreements and ethical standards."
14 February 2018: Unite workers picket Fujitsu Manchester office
Industrial action called in support of workers facing compulsory redundancy, including Ian Allison – with a statement available for viewing here.
11 January 2018: 250 Unite members vote for 11 days of strike action
Unite members voted by a 54 percent majority for strike action and 71 percent for industrial action short of a strike against victimisation of union reps, as well as breaches of a redundancy agreement and compulsory redundancies.
15 December 2017: Unite calls out 'company backtrack' on redundancies
A ballot was cast after Unite said there had been a "failure of talks between Duncan Tait, Fujitsu's head of Americas, Europe, Middle East, India and Africa and Len McCluskey, Unite's general secretary where the union was seeking to halt the redundancy process for six members, and to address concerns that the company is discriminating aganist active union members."
4 December 2017: Len McLuskey meets with Fujitsu
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey meets with Duncan Tait, head of Fujitsu in EMEA, India and the Americas to discuss the dispute, and press Fujitsu to put a stop to the redundancies of Unite members.
August 2017: Unite members reject Fujitsu offer
Since the May suspension of industrial action, Unite members voted to reject Fujitsu's final offer, with the union citing a "shambles" in the redundancy process, low confidence in senior management, and new groups of employees being placed in ‘at risk' status.
19 May 2017: Unite suspends industrial action
Unite suspends industrial action giving time for members to discuss and vote on an offer from Fujitsu.
April 2017: Further industrial action called throughout April and May
March 2017: Two days of national strike action over 1800 job cuts, pay, pension and union recognition
28 February 2017 – day-long national strike
Union and non-union members walked out of Fujitsu UK for a national strike, with pickets taking place in Basingstoke, Belfast, Blackpool, Bracknell, Crewe, London, Manchester, Solihull, Stevenage, Wakefield, and Warrington.
3 February 2017 – notice of UK-wide industrial action ballot posted
Unite reps and the Unite national officer Ian Tonks met with Fujitsu's John Vickerman, Tim Cowell, and Steve Hammond to discuss jobs, union recognition, pay and pensions, including compensation for over-60s who had changes made to their pensions.
Unite said that "no material progress" was made to delay an industrial action ballot and issued a notice to Fujitsu workers.
January 2017: local action suspended
Local industrial action was suspended following 12 days total of strike action at Fujitsu's Manchester office, after members voted to accept an offer from Fujitsu that addressed local concerns over pensions, pay and job security. Unite said that the deal fell short of what members had aimed for, but achieved protections against striking staff, backdated pay increases, and measures to protect rep Lynne Hodge "after the company broke agreements by trying to take her job off her".
December 2016: more strikes
Nine days of industrial action and picketing around central Manchester and at Fujitsu UK's Manchester offices.
November 2016: Strike day one of three against Agenda 2020 cuts
Five days of strike action as well as leafleting the Fujitsu IT conference, the Fujitsu Forum, held in Munich.
The first of what was to be many strikes occurred on 1 November 2016, with 300 staff picketing the Manchester site and gaining significant attention including from national media such as ITV. Leaflets distributed nationally highlighted the 1800 job cuts as part of Agenda 2020, as well as the termination of Fujitsu Voice.
October 2016: Fujitsu announces intention to dismantle Fujitsu Voice
Fujitsu shut down the Fujitsu Voice consultation committee for UK workers at the company, with plans to move the committee to a Europe-wide equivalent. The company told the Register at the time that this was part of a new centralisation drive.
Unite national officer Ian Tonks said the closing of Fujitsu Voice at that time was when it was needed more than ever.
October 2016: Fujitsu announces mass layoffs
Fujitsu announced that it planned to lay off 1,800 jobs, translating to over a tenth of its 14,000-strong UK workforce.
At the time, Unite's national IT officer Ian Tonks said: "Fujitsu's main UK subsidiary made £85.6 million profit last year and we see no reason for these job losses. Unite will be doing its utmost to fight for these jobs, as well as giving our members maximum support at this very worrying time."
Fujitsu denied that the decision was influenced by Brexit, and was part of wider strategic restructuring to centralise its operations.