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Timetable for industrial action ballot against BT imminent

CWU deputy secretary demands better pay for staff amid cost-of-living crisis

The Communication and Workers Union (CWU) will this week publish the timetable to run an industrial action ballot over the pay rise BT gave to members recently, with the telco's subsidiaries to vote separately.

Earlier this month, BT paid its 58,000 frontline workers a flat rate increase of £1,500 ($1,930) for the year, upping it from the £1,200 ($1,545) initially offered. BT hadn't cleared this increase with the CWU, and the union branded the offer as unacceptable at a time when inflation in Britain is expected to soar by 10 percent this year.

In a public town hall meeting last week, the CWU said it will take an "emergency motion" to the Annual Conference this week to "set out the exact ballot timetable," said Karen Rose, vice president at CWU.

"It's the job of every individual member of this union to get out there and convince all your colleagues to vote in this ballot. And to vote yes," she added.

Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary for telecoms and financial services at the CWU, said the union rejects the "imposition of this pay deal without our agreement which is a major, major issue.

"This is the start of an era, we believe, where if BT get away with this imposition, they will impose many other things," he added. "We are quite clear in the CWU that you deserve more. Our members deserve more than this. They deserve to be treated much better than they've been done by BT.

"This company is still making large profits. And it really sticks in my craw when I hear Philip Jansen, the CEO of the company, saying that the issue is of affordability and this is all they can afford."

The "cost-of-living crisis" will hit all members, said Kerr.

BT reported a net profit of £1.472 billion ($1.9 billion) in its previous financial year ended March 2021, although this was down on the £1.734 billion ($2.23 billion) in the prior 12 months.

"This company is very profitable. It's still making real profit out of this country," said Kerr. "We think you deserve a fair share… the shareholders are getting their piece."

BT Team Members – the 58,000 frontline staff – received a 1.5 percent pay rise in 2020 and a one-off £1,500 bonus in 2021.

Kerr said CWU will need to run "three separate ballots" for BT and operating divisions EE and Openreach. "We do need to go over some hurdles because of the trade union legislation but we are absolutely determined to do that."

CWU last threatened to run a nationwide industrial action ballot over compulsory BT redundancies last year. On the eve of that vote in May, BT and CWU agreed to suspend proceedings and hatched guiding principles to work together more effectively.

At the town hall meeting some members urged CWU to stick to its guns this time round and see the nationwide industrial ballot through.

"We aren't going to back off," said Kerr. "We are not backing off. The CWU are going into an industrial action ballot. The question is, when do we do it? We're walking through the strategy for that over the next few days and sharing that with our conference".

A spokesperson at BT said the £1,500 annual pay increase is the largest offered by the company in 20 years, equating to 8 percent for the lowest paid colleagues and more than 3 percent for those in higher salaries.

"[W]e are disappointed that the CWU is considering industrial action, because if it goes ahead, nobody wins.

"We are emerging from a two-year global pandemic which has created difficult trading conditions for BT Group – and many other businesses – and has exacerbated a trend of year-on-year revenue declines over the last five years. BT Group’s current pay rates compare well against competitors and in most cases remain at or above the market rate." ®

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