Cracks appearing across BT Group as more strikes pile on the pressure


Over 40,000 BT and Openreach workers are downing tools today (Thursday) for their seventh day of industrial action amid clear evidence that mounting engineering workstacks and lengthening call centre queues are seriously impacting all parts of the business.

That disruption will be compounded on Monday (October 24) with a further day of all-out strike action demonstrating an entire workforce’s disgust at the steadfast refusal of BT Group bosses to reconsider real-term pay cut that have triggered the first national strike action in the telecoms giant in 35 years.

Despite repeated CWU appeals to senior management to return to the negotiating table to achieve a fair and just settlement of an increasingly bitter pay dispute,  bosses have so far shown no interest in resolving the industrial relations conflagration.

As such, the CWU is embarked on a co-ordinated programme to up the ante, with plans to reballot the entire workforce – including members in EE –announced in a special Facebook Live broadcast on Tuesday night.

That, plus simultaneously revealed plans for future bouts of industrial action to be longer and more intense, builds on the escalation that has already seen more than 500 emergency services call handlers based at  999 call centres across the country join the strike for the very first time.

Previously, those fielding 999 calls had been specially exempted from the CWU’s industrial action in recognition of the essential public service they provide.

But amid widespread employee outrage at the company’s continuing refusal to enter into meaningful negotiations with the CWU – combined with the realisation by 999 operators that their commitment to public safety and sense of duty  was being cynically exploited by bosses – these workers have now joined their company colleagues on strike day picket lines

Their involvement in the dispute since Thursday October 10 has seen a dramatic upsurge of media reporting of the dispute – yet, to date, the response by an increasingly out-of-touch senior management team has been one of brass-necked and patently absurd denial that having most of their workforce out on strike is impacting the business at all!

That reached a new level of perversity this week with members in Openreach’s Civil Engineering division receiving a bizarre emailed “thank you”  from their boss, Adam Lang, for their “continued efforts throughout the latest periods of ‘industrial action’.”

Immediately branded a  “kick in the teeth” by grass roots members – who pointed out that barbed ‘thank you’ messages’ don’t pay the bills –  the curious intervention has been robustly dismissed as an “act of managerial desperation” by deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.

“The simple truth is that your strike action is impacting the network and fibre build,” he insisted in a bulletin  issued to members across BT Group on Tuesday.

“The BT twitter account is full of customers claiming that they are now waiting months to have their broadband connected. Additionally reports across the UK confirm that queues for provision and repair are increasing, on a cumulative basis, following each day of strike action.

“Members have shown their strength by their continued support for strike action and this is impacting the company’s performance. It’s now vital that we keep up the pressure by overwhelming support for the next two days of industrial action.

“You’ve got them on the ropes…let’s keep them there and we will win the pay rise you have earned,” concludes Andy.

Management contempt…

At the heart of the dispute is BT’s unilateral imposition of an insulting flat rate pay-rise of just £1,500 this spring – following no consolidated increase at all last year – and management’s steadfast refusal to reconsider its position, despite spiralling inflation (which has now reached 10.1% under the Government’s preferred CPI measure, and 12.6% under the traditional RPI measure) and an ever-deepening cost of living crisis.

Workforce fury has been compounded by blatant company misrepresentations about the percentage value of the imposed pay settlement and patently untrue public pronouncements about ‘protracted pay discussions’ with the union that simply never happened!

But arguably the biggest single contributor to CWU members’ disgust  at  BT Group has been the rank hypocrisy of management pronouncements that the company ‘simply can’t afford’ to pay employees a cost of living pay rise when it’s a matter of public record that senior executives are pocketing massive rises themselves.

On the back of annual profits of £1.3 billion and payouts of £761million in shareholder dividends, BT CEO Philip Jansen has seen a 32% rise in his overall remuneration package this year (up from £2,628,000 in 2021 to £3,460,000 in 2022), while the company’s financial officer Simon Lowth has seen his overall package increase by 25%.