Ball firmly in BT’s court as CWU smashes ballot thresholds and demands new talks

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT, EE, Openreach


CWU members across BT Group have delivered an overwhelming  message of disgust and defiance to their bosses, voting  by well over nine-to-one to reject real-term pay cuts in every part of the business.

Onerous legal thresholds, designed to make it as hard as possible for workers to withdraw their labour under the UK’s notoriously anti-union employment law, weren’t just exceeded but positively smashed in Openreach and BT.

In Openreach, where 28,425 CWU members were entitled to vote, participants recorded an eye-watering 95.8% ‘yes’ vote for industrial action on a 74.8% turnout.

In  BT, where 10,353 were issued with ballot papers, another remarkable ‘yes’ vote of 91.5% was recorded on a 58.2% turnout. That turnout, by comparison knocked the socks off the 39.5% participation rate in the recent Wakefield parliamentary by-election and comfortably beat the 52.3% turnout in Tiverton & Honiton which just last week was heralded by the media as “unusually high”.

The majorities in favour of strike action in Openreach and BT dispel once and for all the myth consistently perpetuated by management that dissatisfaction with their imposed below-inflation pay settlement was restricted to “around 30 disgruntled employees”!

Even in EE – where the ballot turnout fell just eight votes short of the 50% threshold required to mandate legally constituted industrial action (a turnout level that, pointedly, is seldom, if ever, met in any local or Mayoral elections) – an extraordinary 95.5% of those who participated indicated their willingness to strike on a 49.7% turnout.

Conceding that the result in EE means that it will be the only part of BT Group that won’t be subject to strike action if management doesn’t take up the union’s offer of new pay talks, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “If there’s any EE manager stupid enough to think that they’ve somehow ‘won’, they should think again.

“With 95.5% of participating EE members expressing their willingness to take strike action in pursuit of a decent pay rise the moral victory is undoubtedly ours.

“The bitter irony is that, had we legally been allowed to issue ballot papers to the hundreds in EE  who joined the union during the course of the ballot, we’d have comfortably exceeded that threshold. That’s just another indicator of just how unfairly the law is stacked against UK workers….and, conversely, what a remarkable vindication of the union’s position that the overall ballot result represents.”

Announced at 4pm yesterday, the packed press conference at CWU headquarters in Wimbledon was simultaneously live-streamed and watched by thousands of members in real-time and by many more since on catch-up.

The inevitability of strike action being declared in Openreach and BT if management doesn’t now budge was widely reported on the evening national television news, 24-hour news channels, a host of online newsfeeds and in many of this morning’s daily papers.

One especially notable element of the coverage is just how wide open the CWU’s campaigning has blown open the normally unspoken world of executive pay excesses. Virtually every media outlet drew direct comparisons between the 32% increase that BT Group CEO Philip Jansen is receiving in his overall pay package this year (up from £2,628,000 in 2021 to £3,460,000 in 2022) with the below-inflation rise that has been imposed on key workers who kept the country connected throughout the pandemic.

“We believe that public support for workers who are taking action and returning this type of ballot result is growing,” stressed CWU general secretary Dave Ward in yesterday’s press conference.

“People are increasingly realising there’s a deep structural imbalance in power and wealth. It permeates the world of work and right across the economy it is rigged against working people and is driving the inequalities that exist in UK society today.

“The common denominator is that, whatever the crisis – be it the financial crisis, the pandemic, the climate crisis or the cost of living crisis – people are beginning to realise that the one certainty is that if they don’t stand up now the reality is that the rich are getting richer and the powerful are getting more powerful.”

The CWU’s view was certainly reflected in numerous supportive comments from the general public posted on the BBC website within minutes of the story breaking.

Andy concludes: “At the beginning of this ballot we said we would still be open to negotiations with BT Group. Our word still stands.

“I sincerely hope that this result will make them come to their senses, but make no mistake: If BT Group does not respond in kind, we will not hesitate to serve notice for strike action.”

  • View yesterdays ballot announcement/ press conference on catch-up here and the press release that was issued by the CWU yesterday here