Union rejects latest BT pay offer, calls for ballot on industrial action

CWU wants 10% for members, cites biting inflation rises in UK


The Communication Workers Union is lining up an industrial action ballot for members working at BT after rejecting the telecom company's offer of a flat rate £1,500 pay rise for 58,000 frontline workers.

Just last week, Britain's largest broadband and phone provider put a £1,200 increase on the table for staff, however this was dismissed by the union as insulting at a time when local inflation is soaring.

The package went up 25 percent in the days since but that didn't make the difference. In the latest update, CWU said: "The proposal of a flat-rate of £1,500 fully consolidated rise (pro-rata for part-timers) is simply not acceptable.

"Inflation has risen exponentially and household incomes are being tested to the limit in this cost of living crisis. National Insurance is increasing this month, meaning a cut in your take home pay," it said in a BT Pay Bulletin to members, seen by The Reg.

"The CWU negotiating team and the national executive has listened very carefully to our members, we made a claim that you should get a 10 percent pay rise; £1,500 is not even half this in real terms and a mere fraction of BT's profits. They can afford more and you deserve more.

"We have come to the end of negotiations, BT have imposed this pay rise, without giving you the opportunity to vote on whether you believe this is an acceptable offer. We therefore have no alternative but to make preparations for a statutory industrial action ballot in pursuit of our pay claim," it concludes.

The union, which counts around 40,000 BT workers among its membership, said last week that many employees put their necks on the line during the pandemic to keep essential services running. It called for the double digit percentage pay rise for engineers, contract centre and retail staff that comprise 58,000 of BT's 83,000 people in the UK. These also include employees at EE and Openreach.

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Yesterday, BT CEO Philip Jansen wrote to staff to confirm that "eligible Team Members and frontline colleagues will receive a £1,500 pay rise, effective 1 April."

He said this was one of the "biggest pay rises we've given in over 20 years."

"The pay rise means an increase of up to 8 percent for some of our people, and more than 3 percent of even our highest paid Team Members, which is still above the UK average," he added.

It was, said Jasen, "at the upper end of what other companies are awarding".

The BT boss admitted "we weren't able to agree this pay rise with the CWU" despite extensive talks in recent weeks. "However, hearing all of your feedback, the two most important principles for me and my team were firstly to give the best pay rise we could –which this is, and second to pay it as soon as we could – which we are."

BT gave staff Team Members a 1.5 percent pay rise in 2020 and a £1,500 bonus last year.

One CWU member at BT told us: "The groundswell of feeling in this company by the rank and file is ballot for a strike as soon as possible.

He said BT "know full well how long this takes to organise with the anti-trade union laws around how this can be done and have a plethora of highly paid lawyers to try and scupper the ballot result. We are under no illusions how this will hurt us but BT are a multi-million pound profitable business and can afford a decent pay rise for ALL its employees."

As we pointed out last week, inflation went up 6.1 percent in February year-on-year, according to the Consumer Price Index, and could be nearer to 10 percent higher by the close of this year, as the cost of fuel, energy and food go through the roof.

BT was last in this position in March last year following a series of strikes by Openreach engineers protesting at a change in grading structure for new employees. The CWU threatened a nationwide industrial ballot for strike action over the modernization program that includes making 13,000 staff redundant and closing the vast majority of its offices, including HQ in central London.

Yet on the eve of that ballot, BT and the union agreed to halt proceedings after the company pledged to pause compulsory redundancies. Some staff are saying they hope the union sees the ballot through this time.

BT reported net income of £1.472 billion in the year ended 31 March, albeit down from £1.734 billion in the prior financial year.

Jansen said his email to staff: "The CWU remains a key partner for us, and we will keep talking to them about pay and other important topics for us Team Member and frontline colleagues in future, but on this occasion it wasn't right to wait."

That stance may soften as time progresses. If it doesn't, BT may be staring down the barrel of its first nationwide strike action since in 1987. ®

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