CWU Announce Industrial Action Ballot across BT, Openreach, and EE

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT, EE, Openreach

Thursday 11th March 2021

The prospect of the first BT-wide strike action in 34 years has moved significantly closer following last night’s announcement that the CWU is moving towards a national industrial action ballot over an unprecedented and sustained assault on job security and hard won terms & conditions.

Barring a dramatic eleventh-hour about-turn by a belligerent new senior management team which has now spent more than a year pursuing a brutal and needlessly confrontational agenda – despite incessant union appeals for meaningful talks to avert a full-scale industrial relations meltdown – that ballot will cover every part of BT, Openreach and EE where the CWU is recognised for collectively bargaining purposes.

The momentous in-principle decision to press the nuclear button was announced in a special Facebook Live session yesterday (Wednesday) evening after branches, executive members and the union’s lead BT Group negotiators unanimously agreed that, without any apparent company willingness to negotiate meaningfully on the key areas of disagreement, the time for talking is fast drawing to a close.

Just 24 hours earlier, top level talks initiated at the request of the union in a last ditch bid to avert the need for a ballot had broken down without tangible movement by the company on the key issues the CWU has been highlighting in the union’s Count Me In campaign of resistance.

Lashing out against the ‘race to the bottom’ strategy being pursued by management team that has lost the confidence and respect of its workforce, deputy general secretary Andy Kerr told a specially convened BT branch forum yesterday that bosses only have themselves to blame for the gathering tidal wave of workforce fury  that is about to engulf them.

“We didn’t pick this fight,” he stressed. “In fact we’ve provided management with every possible opportunity to step back from the brink, consistently offering to work in partnership with the business to address whatever challenges it faces – just as we’ve done on numerous occasions over the decades since privatisation.

“What we’re not prepared to accept, however, is seeing members’ cherished job security and Ts&Cs being attacked on multiple fronts – with longstanding colleagues being picked off one by one, simply because a new breed of management wants to stamp its mark by making compulsory redundancies as a matter of warped principle.

“If BT don’t want us to ballot then they can have us back round the negotiating table just as soon as they want. Our door is still open, and we want to resolve this dispute, but this will require a huge shift in attitude from the company.  At this point in time that doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen – and that’s why we’re gearing up to fight.”

Speaking in last night’s Facebook Live session – which was viewed live by more than 7,500 but by this afternoon had been watched by more than 50,000 across the union’s social media platforms – CWU general secretary Dave Ward insisted that bosses are reaping the consequences of their own disgraceful behaviour.

“Even by the most basic standards of how a big employer like BT should be treating its workforce the company’s actions have been completely unacceptable,” he stressed.

“It’s quite clear management’s plans are all about compulsory redundancies, attacking terms and conditions and carrying out site closures without any consultation with the union or the workforce.

“It doesn’t need to be this way, but BT needs to decide whether it wants to change and transform with the workforce, or against them. As things stand it seems management have chosen the latter, and that’s something the CWU can never stand for.”

Highlighting the momentousness of the decision to move to a statutory industrial action ballot, CWU president and chair of the Telecoms & Financial Services, Karen Rose, said: “We’ll set out the exact timetable in the coming weeks, but the decision has been made.

“This is a historic day for us and I’m sure we’ll see history being made again in the coming weeks and months. This is a time for every single member to say ‘Count Me In’ – and together we will win this ballot and win this dispute.”

View last night’s Facebook Live session below: