BT disappointed as CWU votes to strike

First strike in 35 years after BT staff of the e Communications Workers Union voted to unionize over wage dispute

BT Group and its Openreach unit are facing the prospect of a strike by Communications Workers Union (CWU) employees over a wage dispute.

The CWU, which represents 40,000 BT employees, voted today to carry out what would be the telecom giant’s first national strike in 35 years unless a last-minute deal is reached.

This could happen as BT has faced strikes in 2010 and again in July 2021, which would have been the first national strike at the former British incumbent since 1987.


Inflation problem?

That July 2021 agreement settled a row over planned job cuts and facility closures as part of BT’s moderation move, and also included an agreement that “BT will implement a pay increase for team members next year (i.e. 2022).

According to ISPreviewthat wage agreement would “depend on several factors, including business performance, economic outlook and inflation.”

BT meanwhile told Silicon UK that it had awarded a fully consolidated pay increase to its team member and frontline colleagues of £1,500.

This equates to a wage increase of about 5 percent and 8 percent on average for the lowest paid and will take effect from April 1, 2022, the carrier said.

But according to ISPreview, the CWU’s Deputy Secretary General (Telecoms and Financial Services) Andy Kerr had previously called for a 10 percent pay increase to recognize the “contribution our members have made to the company,” and he immediately rejected BT’s offer.

Kerr warned that given the rising level of inflation, the supply would have effectively meant a “relative wage cut”.

Last year, BT also gave 60,000 frontline workers a special £1,500 bonus in recognition of their work during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping the UK’s communication channels working.

The CWU held three strike votes, for BT, Openreach and EE.

Both the BT and Openreach ballots received more than 90 percent approval for a strike, but the EE ballot barely got enough votes.

Disappointed BT

BT has meanwhile told Silicon UK that it was disappointed with the action of the CWU.

“BT Group awarded the highest pay increase for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average increase of 5 percent and up to 8 percent for those with the lowest salaries,” a BT spokesperson told Silicon UK.

“At the same time, we are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation investment program to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks,” the spokesperson added. “These investments are vital for our millions of customers and for the UK economy. Above all, they are central to the success of this company – and its colleagues – now and in the future.”

“Balancing the competing demands of BT Group stakeholders is our job and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment,” said the BT spokesperson. “The outcome of the CWU’s vote is a disappointment, but we will do our best to keep our customers and the country connected.”

BT said it will await notification from the CWU of its intention to launch a specific union action.

The carrier also said it had tried and tested processes for large-scale absences from colleagues to minimize any inconvenience to our customers.

“We have proven this during the pandemic and as a precaution we are ready to do the same again if strikes continue,” it said. “We will do everything we can to keep our customers connected.”

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