BT strike action is coming: Comms union to serve notice to company

It's good to talk, national telco used to say in ad campaigns.... clearly that didn't include unions and pay disputes

A trade union representing tens of thousands of frontline workers at BT and its subsidiary Openreach are all set for the first nationwide strike in 35 years after Britain’s largest telco refused to agree to pay talks.

At the center of the dispute is BT's decision in April to pay 58,000 engineers and call center staff a one-off £1,500 (c $1,778) pay increase without consulting the CWU.

The union previously demanded a 10 percent hike in wages and warned the company had until the middle of this week to get round the negotiating table following a ballot that saw overwhelming support from members for industrial action.

Management at BT seemingly refused to budge and so the CWU is moving to the next stage of its campaign.

"BT Group CEO Philip Jansen has turned down our offer of talks to avoid the first national dispute since 1987. We will now prepare to serve notice for strike action," the CWU has said.

It pointed out that Jansen, a former Worldpay boss that joined BT in January 2019, himself received a 32 percent pay hike to £3.5 million (c $4.15 million) this year while his employees feel the squeeze of soaring inflation.

"BT and Openreach workers are using food banks and some can’t afford fuel to get to work," the CWU added. "Jansen is refusing to negotiate despite our huge ballot result."

BT reported [PDF] operating profit of £1.3 billion (c $1,54 billion) in the year ended 31 March, down 13 percent year-on-year, and BT points out it is in the middle of a "once-in-a-generation investment program to upgrade the country's broadband and mobile networks."

The ballot BT members engaged in at the end of June saw 74.78 percent of 30,000 Openreach CWU members vote and 95.6 percent of those were in favor of striking. Nearly 60 percent of 9,000 call center staff turned out and 91.5 percent want to down tools in protest of BT's pay award.

Industry experts told The Reg last week that BT will not be able to mitigate the impact from a strike this size, should a situation of agreement not be reached beforehand.

Mark Jackson, editor-in-chief at ISP Review, told us that in terms of Openreach the strike will be felt "from consumer broadband to high capacity Ethernet lines, etc. Openreach have said that they've put dedicated business continuity and resilience teams in place for just such an eventuality, but we'd expect this to focus on key management, network repairs and upkeep work."

BT has maintained a watchful silence on the matter, and is only reiterating previous statements. "Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group's stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment," the BT spokesperson added.

"The result of the ballot is a disappointment but we will work to keep our customers and the country connected."

We have asked CWU to comment on potential strike dates. ®

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