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BT strikes to start this month, 40,000 workers to down tools

Pay dispute rumbles on, industrial action scheduled for 29 July and 1 August

Some 40,000 BT Group employees are scheduling two days of strike action in protest at what the Communication Workers Union described as a real-term pay cut for staff, given the steep rise in inflation.

The union has served BT with notice, as threatened this week, that tens of thousands of employees will down tools on Friday, July 29 and Monday, August 1 as part of the first nationwide industrial action by the UK telco's staff since 1987.

CWU General Secretary Dave Ward, said in a statement to members, seen by us:

This is not a case of an employer refusing to meet a union’s demand - this is about an employer refusing to meet us whatsoever. The serious disruption this strike may cause is entirely down to [BT CEO] Philip Jansen and his friends, who have chosen to stick two fingers up to their own workforce.

“These are the same workers who kept the country connected during the pandemic. Without CWU members in BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution, and vital technical infrastructure may have malfunctioned or been broken when your country most needed it,” he added.

The dispute is centered on the £1,500 flat rate pay increase BT paid workers in April, a move the CWU did not agree to. BT has originally offered £1,200. The union has repeatedly pointed out this is a pay cut in real term after RPI inflation in Britain hit 11.7 percent.

This is against a backdrop of BT reporting an operating profit of £1.3 billion in the year to March 2022 and paying a £700 million dividend to shareholders. Meanwhile, Jansen bagged a 32 percent pay increase to £3.2 million and CFO Simon Loweth received a 25 percent rise to £2.2 million.

“The reason for the strike is simple,” said Ward, “workers will not accept a massive deterioration in their living standards.“ He added: “We won’t have bosses using Swiss banks while workers are using food banks.”

The Big Issue wrote last month about staff at a BT call Centre for mobile division EE setting up a food bank in the north west of England, called Tynside CommunitEE pantry. It was set up for when “it's those last few days before pay day and you need something for tea”.

BT was reported as saying this was actually set up for convenience if staff “don’t have time to visit the supermarket” and it “shouldn’t be confused with a food bank”.

Under last month’s ballot, 74.78 percent of 30,000 Openreach CWU members voted and 95.6 percent were in favor of strike action. Nearly 60 percent of 9,000 call center staff turned out and 91.5 percent of these also approved. Of 2,000 EE staff, too few people turned out to meet the government threshold to strike but it was a close run thing.

Experts in the world of networks previously told us that BT would not be able to mitigate the impact of the strike, given the volume of workers involved, meaning network repairs and upkeep work would be the focus on days when the picket line is erected.

A BT spokesperson responded to today’s news by saying it was involved in “exhaustive discussions” over a pay deal with the CWU for several months at the start of this year.

"When it became clear that we were not going to reach an accord, we took the decision to go ahead with awarding our team member and frontline colleagues the highest pay award in more than 20 years, effective 1st April," the spokesperson said.

"We have confirmed to the CWU that we won’t be re-opening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could. We’re balancing the complex and competing demands of our stakeholders and that includes making once-in-a-generation investments to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks, vital for the UK economy and for BT Group’s future – including our people.

“While we respect the choice of our colleagues who are CWU members to strike, we will work to minimize any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected. We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimize any disruption for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.” ®

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