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BT performs U-turn, agrees to up wages for 85% of UK staff

Cost of Living Pay Rise due in January, if unionised workers vote for it in consultative ballot

BT has offered the majority of its workforce a "Cost of Living Pay Rise" in the hope it settles long-running industrial action that saw thousands of engineers and call center personnel repeatedly down tools in recent months.

Under the terms of the offer, Britain's largest telecom operator said it will offer a £1,500 pay rise for all UK staff presently earning £50,000 or less from the start of 2023. This is a consolidated salary increase, not a one-off pay award.

Some 85 percent of UK staff will be in line to receive the increase, the company said.

When added to the £1,500 ($1,800) pay award in April – which caused the dispute – BT says the latest increase equates to a 15 percent rise for the lowest paid workers on its payroll.

BT Group employees were told of the Cost of Living Pay Rise yesterday, and the CWU and Prospect unions will run consultative ballots "recommending people vote in favor," said BT. The votes will be announced mid-December and "in the case of the CWU would end industrial action if members are supportive," BT said.

The 2023 pay review for UK staff will move to September and "take into account the January Cost of Living Pay Rise." From 2024, the annual pay review will revert to April 1.

The pay dispute began in March when BT first offered a one-off pay award of £1,200 ($1,450) to frontline workers. The CWU was holding out for a 10 percent wage hike due to inflation, which leapt 11.1 percent year-on-year in October on the back of rising energy costs and food bills.

BT upped the offer to £1,500 and made the payment to staff in April without consulting the CWU. BT subsequently refused to re-enter pay talks.

Some 26,000 BT Group employees – 21,000 Openreach engineers and 5,000 call center operators – then voted in June for the first nationwide strike at BT since 1987. The eight days of strikes began in July and the last was in October.

A chink in BT's armor emerged in its last set of results when it admitted 40,000 customer connections were impacted by the strikes. The union then claimed the company had returned to the negotiating table early this month, and in a subsequent town hall meeting CEO Philip Jansen, who himself received a 30+ percent pay rise in April, said the UK government's cap on energy prices had given it room to pay staff more.

On the Cost of Living Pay Rise, Jansen said in a statement sent to The Reg: "This award is based on the principles we have followed throughout this difficult period. It gets help to as many of our colleagues as possible; favors our lower paid colleagues; and gives people the security of a built-in, pensionable increase to their pay."

He added: "Crucially, it has been worked on in conjunction with the CWU. As I've said throughout, whatever our differences, our unions are vital partners. We will now build on this collaboration: We have agreed with both our union partners that we will all lean into the opportunities and challenges the future will bring, specifically our transformation plans and the delivery of the £3bn cost savings by the end of FY25."

Employees within BT are still digesting the changes. In a communication to members, the CWU said: "Make no mistake, your significant sacrifice in taking strike action, making a stand against BT and objecting to their original imposed pay rise in April ultimately forced BT back around the negotiating table. Without this, there would be no further pay increase.

"The case was made, and won, for a consolidated pay rise; consolidation being hugely important as it means it is paid again and again, unlike a one-off payment which does not increase your actual pay."

The consultative ballot will be sent to BT members this week, the union said.

"It is vitally important that you cast your vote as should the proposed agreement be rejected, there will be no other option but to call another statutory ballot in order to take further industrial action in the New Year."

With BT making more cuts in a renewed efficiency drive, The Reg suspects further conflict between the organization and its unionized workers is a distinct possibility. ®

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