UK incumbent workers to hold two-day strike

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Image credit: Openreach/BT Group

The UK’s Communication Workers Union (CWU) has announced that more than 40,000 BT Group workers will hold a two-day national strike.

The announcement followed a strike ballot, in which engineers at BT-owned operator Openreach voted for action by 95.8 per cent and members in BT returned a 91.5 per cent majority for the walkout. 

The CWU said that the dispute centres on workers opposing the imposition by the business of a far-below-inflation, flat-rate, £1,500pa pay settlement on employees and that the strike action is likely to have a serious effect on the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband. It is the first strike action at BT Group since 1987, and the first national call-centre workers’ strike. Strike action is due to take place on  29 July and 1 August.

Dave Ward, general secretary of the CWU said: ‘For the first time since 1987, strike action will now commence at BT Group. This is not a case of an employer refusing to meet a union’s demands – this is about an employer refusing to meet us whatsoever. The serious disruption this strike may cause is entirely down to 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 our country most needed it. Our members worked under great difficulty – and got a real-terms pay cut as a reward.’

CWU deputy general secretary, telecoms and financial services, Andy Kerr added: ‘The decision to take strike action was not made lightly. From the very beginning of this dispute, we have repeatedly expressed our wishes to sit down and negotiate a pay deal that treats BT Group workers with the respect they more than deserve. Instead, our attempts to meet and improve this situation were declined by senior management who clearly have no time for the people who make them their massive profits and this disrespect has led to the first strike at BT Group in nearly four decades. If the top brass at BT haven’t got it yet – this strike is a problem that is entirely of their own making. BT Group workers deserve to be treated with dignity. That means a proper pay rise, and we will not give up until we get that.’

BT Group has responded to the announcement with a statement, attributed to a BT Group spokesperson. It said: ‘At the start of this year, we were in exhaustive discussions with the CWU that lasted for two months, trying hard to reach an agreement on pay. 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. 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 minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected. We have tried and tested processes for large-scale colleague absences to minimise any disruption for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.’

Image credit: ThomBal/Shutterstock.com

04 March 2022

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