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BT must 'prioritize' between 'shareholders and workers' says union boss

Rejects offer of flat rate payrise, calling offer a 'relative pay cut' due to inflation

BT's largest union is rejecting the offer of a flat rate pay rise and threatening to start laying the groundwork for national "statutory industrial ballot action" to ratchet up the pressure on the telecoms biz.

According to a blog post to members by Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary Telecoms & Financial Services at the Communication Workers Union, the offer on the table is £1,200, which given the rate in inflation means employees will be worse off, the CWU said.

"Based on feedback from you, the CWU believe this offer is insulting considering the contribution you have made to the business; many of you putting your lives on the line during the pandemic and significantly contributing to BT's profits," he says in the post, sent to The Reg.

He adds: "In 2021 you had no consolidated pay rise, at a time when inflation was running relatively high, and in 2020 you accepted 1.5 percent due to the unpredictable economic situation during the pandemic."

The pay offer is for frontline and Team Members that work across BT, including engineers, contact centre staff and retail workers. It affects 58,000 out of the 83,000 people BT employs in the UK operating within BT, EE and Openreach.

UK inflation in February was up year-on-year by 6.12 percent, according to the Consumer Price Index. "Rising inflation and the squeeze on household incomes means the offer of £1,200 is a relative pay cut," Kerr adds.

BT have a choice to prioritize between its "shareholders or workers", says Kerr. The CWU is making the case for a 10 percent pay hike, saying this is just a "fraction of BT's profits - they can clearly afford it."

In BT's fiscal 2021 [PDF] ended 31 March, it reported a net profit of £1.472 billion, down on the £1.734 billion reported in the prior year. Net debt was £17.8 billion versus £17.969 billion.

"We have further negotiations in the coming days, if BT are not willing to make a decent offer, we will need to start preparations for a statutory industrial action ballot. We therefore encourage all members to ensure we have your correct details, in particular your home address. We need this to send you a ballot paper and without it you will not be able to vote," adds Kerr.

The pay increase is due to kick in on April 1 and any agreed pay rises will be backdated until then, BT sources told us.

The backdrop to this is the company-wide changes BT is making under the banner of modernization: chopping 13,000 jobs, closing 90 percent of real estate and getting into higher end enterprise tech including AI, data analytics and security.

The CWU and BT were last at loggerheads over changes to engineers' grading structure at the Openreach subsidiary, which lays pipes and does the plumbing for Britain's broadband. In May last year, CWU members working at BT were due to receive a ballot for national industrial action but it was called off at the eleventh hour after the pair reached an agreement on pay and redundancies.

The modernization programme pursued by BT would be guided by a new set of principles the CWU said in July, however less than a year later, threats are being made again.

A BT engineer who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity said: "People are very angry at this derisory offer from the company. We feel the company have been playing the union and stringing them along since the Count Me In vote last year supporting industrial action if needed. It will now need another ballot if needed to organise a strike which will take at least 6 to 8 weeks to process."

A spokesman for BT sent us a statement:

"The backdrop to this year’s pay review is a highly unusual and challenging set of macroeconomics. Our operational delivery in the past year has been brilliant although our financial performance has not been as strong. We are emerging from a two-year global pandemic which has created difficult trading conditions for our business and exacerbated a trend of falling revenue over each of the last five-years.

“We are proposing a consolidated pay increase of £1,200 for all Team Member and frontline colleagues across BT Group. This offer would be the largest aggregate pay increase for our Team Member and frontline colleagues in the last 14 years, representing a salary increase of between 2.7% and 5.64%. In proposing a consolidated flat rate approach we’ve tried to recognise the contribution of all our Team Member and frontline colleagues whilst directing proportionately more of the investment towards lower paid colleagues.” ®

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