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Strike days should serve as 'wake-up call' to BT's top brass, says union

We kept network running 'safely and effectively' on those days, nothing to see here, says Brit telco

The two days of strike action by BT call center operators and engineers at the Openreach subsidiary should act as a “wake-up call” to the executive management team at the British telco but no further dates are yet scheduled.

On July 29 and August 1, tens of thousands of unionized workers at the former state owned business laid down their tools in protest over pay for the first nationwide industrial action at BT since 1987.

In a message sent to members, Andy Kerr, general secretary at the Communication Workers Union said the strike days represented its members “fighting back against an intransigent employer, and showing them we mean business”.

“The rock solid support should be a wake-up call to [CEO] Philip Jansen and the BT Board that you not only voted for strike action but that you are willing to take it in order to get the pay rise you have earned.”

For those not paying attention, BT paid a £1,500 flat one-off pay award to 58,000 staff in April without consulting the union. It had initially offered £1,200 but upped the offer. BT had told us this equated to between an average of 5 to 8 percent for the lowest paid on its payroll, and as such was the highest pay award offered in more than two decades.

The CWU wanted a ten percent increase, and pointed out BT staff were effectively taking a pay cut as UK inflation was already more than 9 percent higher than a year earlier.

The union also highlighted the 32 percent rise given to Jansen, taking his annual wage to £3.2 million in 2022 and the 25 percent handed to CFO Simon Loweth that meant he received £2.2 million.

BT reported net profit of £1.3 billion in the year ended 31 March 2022, albeit down on the prior year. The CWU previously accused BT of prioritizing shareholders over employees.

Staff were balloted by the union in June and an overwhelming majority voted to strike, including more than 21,000 Openreach engineers and almost 5,000 that answer the phones in BT call centers.

“It’s fantastic that many of you attended picket lines, held up banners, handed out leaflets, spoke to MPs, councillors and trade councils, as well as encouraging support from the general public,” added Kerr in his message to members, seen by us.

“The CWU Executive now need to consider carefully our next steps. It is important that all options are explored in seeking to progress our claim for fair pay. We will do this over the next week or so.”

Further dates would seem inevitable. BT has previously stated publicly that the pay review for 2022 was implemented in April and discussions are closed. It also pointed out it is in the midst of laying a fiber network across Britain, which is an expensive undertaking, even with funding support from taxpayers. And the CWU, after taking things this far, would be reluctant to back down.

We asked BT to comment on the impact caused by the recent two-day strike. A BT Group spokesperson, said:

“We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimize any disruption for our customers. We kept the network running safely and effectively, as we do every day, and there were no national incidents or outages.

"We’re continuing to assess the impact but our focus is firmly on serving customers and getting back to business as usual.” ®

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