BT Group-wide strike ballot to commence on June 15  

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT, Openreach

BT, Openreach and EE bosses given ultimatum to budge on pay, or face the first BT Group-wide industrial action ballot in 35 years…

The countdown has begun towards the first national statutory industrial action ballot in BT Group since 1987.

Barring movement from a senior management team which has so far shown itself impervious to a tidal wave of employee fury over the imposition of a real-term pay cut, voting papers will be despatched to  40,000 members in BT, Openreach and EE on Wednesday June 15.

If, as the CWU confidently expects, the  ballot confirms members’ outright rejection of a vicious attack on living standards by a hugely profitable blue chip employer,  BT bosses will have no-one but themselves to blame for the first company-wide strike in 35 years.

At the heart of the dispute, after all, is the company’s abandonment of time-honoured negotiating protocols based on partnership and consent that have underpinned decades of industrial peace. This year, for the very first time,  an unagreed pay settlement has been imposed within 24 hours of its formal rejection by the CWU.

“This imposition undermines industrial relations and is totally disrespectful to the many thousands of employees who are CWU members,” stresses CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.

“The last time we came close to industrial action on pay in BT was in 2010. That, in itself, shows  the seriousness with which we always try to negotiate to reach an agreed outcome and the fact we never take these decisions lightly.

“The trouble is that you can only negotiate if the other side of the table want to negotiate, and sadly it is now clear that BT doesn’t want to do so anymore.”

Coming a year after BT’s imposition of an unconsolidated £1,000 cash bung in 2021 – disingenuously presented as  a ‘thank-you’ to staff for keeping the country’s communication infrastructure running throughout the pandemic – this year’s pay snub has been the final straw.

It was precisely to try to ensure that members received a proper cost of living increase this year that the CWU secured a commitment  that any jointly-agreed increase would  be fully consolidated in the complex negotiations that  concluded the  union’s Count Me In  campaign.

Yet,  despite initial indications that pay talks were progressing normally, negotiations came to an abrupt halt on April 7 with the unprecedented  imposition of a flat rate increase of £1,500.

With the percentage value ranging  from 3.37% to 7.89% across team member grades,  and this month’s CPI inflation figures already standing at 9% (RPI  11.1%)­ – leaving  Bank of England predictions that CPI will top 10% by the year’s end  looking distinctly optimistic – it already represents a real-term pay cut on top of an effective pay freeze last year.

Moreover, the  fact that recent uplifts to £20,000 for some of the company’s lowest paid workers on unagreed grades count towards the £1,500 increase, and are deducted from it, mean that for many the ‘headline’ increase of 7.89% is highly deceptive.

“Despite what  some in the media have been saying the CWU has categorically not rejected an 8% pay rise,” stresses Andy. “For many of the lowest paid workers at least 5% of what they have received only gets  them back to where they should have been in the first place!  The simple truth is that BT had to increase these wages back in January because they couldn’t recruit on that salary!

“In overall pay pot terms,  the deal is worth around 4.8% and we simply don’t believe that’s enough – especially after a pay standstill last year and the full-blown cost of living crisis we are now in.

“Philip Jansen says it’s all about affordability, yet this year BT is intending to pay out £761 million to shareholders – about 60% of the Group’s overall profits – so this is actually about choices and priorities, not affordability.

“If  BT reduced the 7.7 pence per share dividend they are planning to give shareholders by between 0.4 and 0.5 pence, and gave that money instead to those who generate the profits, that would be enough to settle a deal I’m confident members would find acceptable.

“These workers put their lives on the line during the pandemic to keep the country connected and the BT Board – who receive incentive payouts based on the value created for the shareholder – continue to make massive financial gains from the profits our members have worked hard to create.

“BT needs to wake up and recognise that, in a climate where the cost of everything is skyrocketing, it is simply  insulting for a highly successful business to impose real-term pay cuts on the very employees on which its success depends,” Andy concludes.

View Facebook Live session outlining the ballot timetable: