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More BT and Openreach strikes will take place this month

BT Tower framed by decorative lamp post

The Communications Workers Union has announced more strikes will be carried out by workers at BT and Openreach on Tuesday August 30th and Wednesday August 31st.

The Communications Workers Union has announced more strikes will take place on Tuesday August 30th and Wednesday August 31st, as the dispute over pay for BT and Openreach workers in the face of inflation rolls on following strikes by 30,000+ BT engineers and 9,000 BT call centre workers earlier this month. In an online broadcast seemingly targeted at union members but which has since been uploaded to YouTube, Dave Ward, General Secretary of the Communication Workers Union, said:

“We know that the last strikes and this announcement today has rocked the company. We know that from a number of ways – one that they didn’t expect the level of support that you delivered in those two strikes. When I was on the picket lines and talking to people there were plenty of managers around who we spoke to, and it became evident from some of those managers that they were really, really taken aback by the level of support.

“We also know that a lot of those mangers are passing back messages to the company, and I think that the management… are fed up with the action of the CEO and the board, and that was also clear in some of the dialogue that took place. But we were also able to focus very much on the CEO and the board on how wrong they’ve been in the choices they’ve made thus far. And also that it was absolutely possible for them to deliver a better pay rise, it is an affordable pay rise. And nothing demonstrated that more than on the eve of those first two strikes the first quarter profits were announced at £422 million, so we all know they can afford to give you a higher pay rise.”

BT’s quarterlies showed its consumer facing operations grew revenues by 5% year-on-year, thanks to some price hikes implemented earlier this year, but also a 7% revenue decline in the enterprise group. It responded to the action announced today with the statement: “We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, although we’re disappointed, we respect their decision to strike. We have made the best pay award we could and we are in constant discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here. In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected”.

Previously BT gave workers a £1,500 pay increase, but the CWU’s argument is that this doesn’t cover the rising costs of inflation and therefore represents a pay cut in real terms. As the dispute rolled on, CWU members working at BT voted in favour of initial strike action at the beginning of July, amid what Dave Ward described as a ‘real culture of fear that has been imposed in the last couple of years by the senior BT management.’

The CWU isn’t particularly consistent with the channels it delivers its combinations through – the BT strikes were announced on social media, and while there was no specific press release detailing them, a press release regarding a Post Office strike that was also announced today included a line from CWU assistant secretary Andy Furey saying:

“Although ours is a separate trade dispute to that of our Royal Mail colleagues – and our BT Openreach fellow members – the issues at stake here are all remarkably similar. A profitable company, a workforce who performed exceptionally during the pandemic – as key workers, continuing to attend work throughout – and an arrogant and uncaring senior management who seem dead set on attacking, impoverishing and humiliating its own employees.”

There is obviously some ground between how those on either side of the picket fence see things – obviously with regards to what constitutes a fair pay rise and a fair profit margin, but even more fundamentally on whether or not negotiations are happening properly. BT states it is ‘in constant discussions with the CWU to find a way forward’, while a letter from Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner expressed her ‘disappointment’ to CEO Phillip Jansen that “you have refused to meet with representatives of your workers to find a resolution… do the right thing and take your place at the negotiating table to find a fair pay deal.”

For now there will be two more strikes in August, and presumably if neither side budges there will be more after that as well.

 

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