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BT re-enters pay talks to prevent further strikes, says union

What forced the change in attitude? The impact on 40,000 broadband connections possibly

The Communication Workers Unions (CWU) claims BT Group has agreed to re-enter negotiations to find a solution to the protracted pay dispute that has caused thousands of engineers and call center operators to strike.

Since July, 26,000 Openreach and call center personnel have downed tools on eight separate dates, and BT admitted yesterday that the industrial action was actually having some effect on business operations.

In a note to members last night – seen by The Reg – the union said that the "overwhelming strike action that you have taken in your fight for a fair pay rise in making a different. It has got us back into discussions with BT this week with as view to seeking a resolution to our dispute."

"We are in the process of setting up further meetings with the company next week," the message adds. "We have called a meeting of your local branch official so we can get their feedback about next steps ifs our talks fail to meet an acceptable way forward."

In BT's half-year results for fiscal 2023, released yesterday, it confirmed 40,000 Openreach customer connections were impacted by the strikes. The CWU has run eight strike days so far between July 29 and October 24. Previously, BT told us it had "tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absence to minimize any disruption."

BT told The Register: "BT Group is pleased to confirm that we are in discussion with the CWU – as we have been throughout. This is focused on building a unified and positive direction for the whole company. These are challenging economic times and we recognize that it's tough for everybody but we remain hopeful that we can agree a way forward."

In September, however, the company informed us: "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."

The CWU last week told us it was meeting BT's institutional investors to make the case that giving employees bigger raises made commercial sense in terms of subsequent climbs in morale and productivity. The Reg always felt that was a long shot as most shareholders really only care about one thing: money.

The long-running dispute, which started in March, centers on the pay award of £1,500 that BT handed to staff in April without consulting the CWU. BT said this equated to between a 5-8 percent hike for the 58,000 frontline staff that received it. The CWU was holding out for a 10 percent rise and pointed out that CEO Philip Jansen received 30 percent rise to £3.5 million.

In Britain, the Consumer Price Index went up 8.8 percent in September and is forecast to rise further. Bank interest rates went up this week by 0.75 percent to 3 percent, the highest since the late 2000s.

BT defended the April pay increase, saying it was the biggest rise given to staff in years and came amid the expensive rollout of FTTP. The company reported a 1 percent year-on-year rise in revenue to £10.4 billion ($11.6 billion) for the six months to 30 September and a 58 percent rise in operating profits to £594 million ($665 million).

Should BT and the union thrash out a deal, CWU members working at the company will have the chance to vote on it. If it all falls apart, the CWU will re-ballot the relevant members with a view to taking more industrial action. ®

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