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Union meeting BT shareholders today to discuss strikes, pay rises

CWU also planning to re-ballot entire workforce, claims stoppages are delaying fiber and network builds

Exclusive The union behind the protracted strike action at BT is today scheduled to meet with the British telecoms giant's shareholders – one of the screws it is turning to press for pay talks to be reopened.

Thousands of BT Group engineers and call center workers are also downing tools again today in protest of the £1,500 pay award they received in April, well below surging inflation and imposed without consulting the Communication Workers Union (CWU).

This is the eighth day of stoppages – the first round of national strikes at BT in 35 years – and further dates look inevitable given the stand-off with leadership.

Andy Kerr, deputy General Secretary for Telecoms and Financial Services at the CWU, told us that "an invite went out to shareholders. Not sure who will turn up."

We asked where the meeting is taking place and if the union received any replies from interested parties. The biggest BT shareholders include Patrick Drahi (18 percent), T-Mobile Holdings (12 percent), and BNP Paribas (7.523 percent).

Investors are generally more interested in dividends and profits but the CWU will hope to convince them that a happy workforce is a productive workforce, and point to areas where the strikes are taking a toll.

"The simple truth is that your strike action is impacting the network and fiber build," Kerr told members last week in a communication seen by The Reg.

"The BT Twitter account is full of customers claiming that they are now waiting to have their broadband connected. Additionally, reports across the UK confirm that queues for provision and repair are increasing, on a cumulative basis, following each day of strike action."

The CWU also said it intends to re-ballot the entire workforce at BT Group, including EE members that narrowly missed out on getting the requisite numbers to strike. Some might interpret this as the union realizing its current path of action isn't forcing BT back to the negotiating table.

The first ballot for industrial action was at the end of June, triggered by the pay award for 58,000 for line workers. It received strong support, with nearly 26,000 of the 39,000 members working at Openreach (engineers) and BT Group call center staff voting to protest.

Emergency call handlers have since joined the latest four days of strikes in October but another union, Prospect, said it did not support any action that potentially put lives at risk.

No further dates have yet been called but the CWU said in a communication to BT members that it plans "future bouts of industrial action to be longer and more intense." There were two walks-out its July, two in August, and four this month.

The CWU wants a 10 percent pay rise for staff, some of whom are struggling to deal with rising household bills. Inflation last week hit a 40-year high in Britain of 10.1 percent year-on-year and is forecast to go further. It points out that BT CEO Philip Jansen received a £3.46 million remuneration package in fiscal '22, up 32 percent year-on-year.

BT made a profit of £1.3 billion in its prior financial year, down from £2 billion, but it has repeatedly pointed us to the cost of building next-generation fiber networks, and said its pay award was the highest for years.

The telecom biz previously told us ahead of strikes this month: "We made the best pay award we could in April and we have held discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here. In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimize any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected". ®

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