BT workers vote to strike amid ‘culture of fear’

BT Tower framed by decorative lamp post

Members of the Communications Workers Union working for BT have voted to strike after an ongoing dispute over pay, BT calls the result ‘a disappointment’.

After an ongoing dispute over pay, CWU members working at BT have voted in favour of strike action, amid what General Secretary of the union Dave Ward described as a ‘real culture of fear that has been imposed in the last couple of years by the senior BT management.’

There were three components to the voting. The ballot for the trade dispute with Open Reach, in which 28,425 people were entitled to vote, 21,272 did so which was a 74.8% turnout. 20,358 voted in favour of strike action, representing 95.8%.

In the second ballot in the dispute against BT, of 10,353 eligible to vote 6,022 turned out (58.2%) and 5,503 voted yes to strike action, representing 91.5%.

The ballot for the dispute against EE fell short of government threshold of votes by 8, though 95.5% of those that did vote were in favour of striking.

Ward said during a press conference:

“What this result means is that for the first time in nearly four decades we face the prospect of national industrial action across the BT group. It’s an incredible result given the remarkable challenges that are given to the union by the diverse nature of the workers that have been involved in these ballots. First of all this ballot includes thousands of people that have been working from home, thousands of people who work out in the street but work in isolation, they don’t have workplaces they work throughout the day pretty much on their own. It includes a high turnover of workers in some areas, and it’s been achieved despite the real culture of fear that has been imposed in the last couple of years by the senior BT management.

“BT posted profits this year of £1.3 billion and they also paid out 700 million their shareholders, and at the same time the CEO was imposing a pay rise of £1500 on all of its workers, his earnings have increased by over 32% to a point where he is no earning over £3.5 million per year. They also put their prices up earlier on this year, way above inflation, by 10%, so these people are partly to cause for the spiral in inflation, not workers. And what we are saying is simply this – by any measure of fairness this is completely unacceptable. And what these people are doing, and I believe it’s happening across a lot of other companies, they are creating a levelling down agenda in the UK at the same time as the government were talking about levelling up, and we can’t carry on like this.”

In response to the vote, a BT spokesperson said:

“BT Group awarded its highest pay rise for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average 5% increase and up to 8% for those on the lowest salaries. At the same time, we’re in the middle of a once-in-a-generation investment programme to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks. These investments are vital for the benefit of our millions of customers and for the UK economy. Above all, they are central to the success of this business – and its colleagues – now and in the future.

“Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group’s stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment. The result of the CWU’s ballot is a disappointment but we will work to keep our customers and the country connected.”

There’s obviously a lot of ground between how BT management and the CWU sees the financial situation of BT as a whole. The former points to the massive amounts of cost required in laying out new network infrastructure and the tolls of energy price hikes on the warchest, while for the latter points to substantial CEO salaries and payments to shareholders as evidence of unfairness.

BT references a £1,500 pay increase for workers as proof it is doing all it can, but its evident from the CWU conference what union management thinks of that, as Ward describes it as being ‘imposed’ on workers. What happens next could presumably take a few different turns – BT said: “We will await notification from the CWU of its intention to launch any specific industrial action. There will be a minimum notice period between notification and the beginning of any strike.”


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One comment

  1. Avatar Peter Prentice 01/07/2022 @ 2:58 pm

    Maybe all the management should be required to have the same percentage pay increase or decrease as the workforce

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