BT hits out at ‘reckless’ 999 strike

BT has reacted angrily to news that emergency services call handlers will be included in strike action planned for next month.

The UK telecoms incumbent responded to the latest salvo from the Communication Workers Union in the pair’s ongoing battle over pay. The CWU shared that 999 workers will strike alongside 40,000 BT and Openreach staff on four separate days in October.

“We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, whilst we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action, we are profoundly disappointed that the CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action by including 999 services in strikes,” the telco said in a statement attributed to a group spokesperson.

BT and the union have been at loggerheads for some months. Strike action took place in July and August as the telco and union bosses failed to reach agreement on pay increases for staff. After what BT describes as “exhaustive discussions” with the CWU earlier this year, the telco pushed on with its decision to implement a £1,500 flat rate pay increase, effective from the start of April, which it says amounts to a five percent hike on average and an eight percent increase for the lowest paid. However, the CWU argues that with increases in the cost of living – including the cost of telecoms and Internet services, of course – its members are still taking a pay cut in real terms.

The CWU has repeatedly hit out at BT for declining to change its stance on pay, despite its sizeable profit margins, dividends and executive bonuses, a theme it returned to at a national meeting of branch delegates in central London on Thursday.

“This is not a company on its uppers. This company can well afford to move on pay,” CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr told attendees, according to a statement from the union, having reminded those present that BT CEO Philip Jansen, whose own payrise came in at 32 percent, has pocketed “nearly half a million,” this year so far.

“We intend to serve notice on BT Group today for four days of strike action during October,” Kerr announced at the meeting. “And we intend to up the ante – so we’ll remove all emergency cover and pull out 999 operators.”

The strike dates are set for 6th, 10th, 20th and 24th October, BT said.

It noted that it will endeavour to reduce the impact of the action, by postponing all non-essential engineering works or software updates, for example. But the emergency services element naturally brings more cause for concern.

“We will do whatever it takes to protect 999 services – redeploying our people to the most important priority is a normal part of BT Group operations,” the operator’s spokesperson said. “We made the best pay award we could in April and we have held discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here.”

Like the rest of us, BT doubtless knew that more industrial action was on the cards. And it’s not yet clear which party will blink first. But the addition of emergency services staff makes for much more eye-catching headlines.


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