Safety concerns escalate as Covid 19 mobile mast conspiracy theory rumbles on

Telecoms & Financial Services, BT


Members across the telecoms and financial services sector are being reminded about the paramount importance of ensuring their personal safety as the number of instances of abusive behaviour towards field engineers working to keep the UK’s vital communications infrastructure up and running continues to escalate.

To date, more than 80 engineers working for different mobile and fixed-line operators across the sector are known to have experienced varying degrees of verbal and physical attacks by members of the public based on a groundless conspiracy theory that the 5G rollout is somehow connected with the spread of coronavirus.

Amongst those impacted are 35 field engineering members in Openreach.

In the latest recorded incident, which occurred on Tuesday, an Openreach engineer working in the Glastonbury area was approached by an irate woman as he worked on a cabinet rectifying a customer’s broadband fault.

Becoming increasingly aggressive and threatening, the woman began yelling “you’re installing 5G” – and, despite the engineer insisting that he wasn’t, he found himself on the receiving end of an unnerving torrent of verbal abuse.

With tensions escalating in lockdown Britain however, it’s not just the mobile mast ‘fake news’ that is resulting in members being put in increasing uncomfortable situations.

In Liverpool, on the very same day as the abusive incident in Glastonbury, another Openreach engineer experienced threatening behaviour – including the blocking of his retreat – by a customer who was furious when the engineer explained he couldn’t enter the man’s property.

Several days earlier, in north London, an Openreach engineer was stopped at traffic lights when a woman jumped in front of his van, threw a bottle of water at him, which hit and soaked him, while screaming abuse about 5G.

The CWU has long been concerned about an escalation in the number of abusive calls fielded by the union’s extensive contact centre membership – and while no instances specifically related to Covid 19/ 5G have yet been escalated to union headquarters, the advice to such members is essentially the same: Your union is here for you; please inform your local rep about any abusive behaviour you experience – and we’ll support you in any way we can.

Yesterday (Wednesday) CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr was interviewed by BBC Radio One over the extraordinary escalation of abusive situations suffered by key workers who are simply trying to do their bit to keep the county functioning in this unprecedented national emergency.

The lunacy – which has astonishingly included the vandalism of mobile phone masts, thereby disrupting not just 5G but also 3 and 4G communication flows at a time of national crisis – began after the live streaming and widespread sharing of a video by conspiracy theorist David Icke in which he linked 5G technology to the pandemic. See CWU web news story HERE

Despite the swift efforts of Ofcom and politicians to try to quash a plainly ridiculous piece of ‘fake news’ – and an unusually fast response by the major social media platforms to delete the offending videos and any other material perpetuating the falsehood – so far the madness shows no signs of abating.

As Andy Kerr told Radio One yesterday: “It really does defy belief that, in this day and age, a groundless and obviously stupid conspiracy theory can result in ill-informed and frankly idiotic individuals attacking key workers who are doing their utmost to keep the UK’s vital communications network operational.”

This morning the union has emailed members across BT Group reminding them that the Health and Safety Executive’s definition of work-related violence covers “any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work’ – and that any such instances should not just be formally logged with their manager but reported to the CWU as well.

That message is now being replicated to membership groups vulnerable to the present volatile situation associated with the Covid 19/5G conspiracy theory across the telecommunications sector. These include members who work a range of companies that do not presently recognise the CWU for collective bargaining purposes – including Sky, Vodafone, Virgin Media and the union’s burgeoning membership at SIAE Microelettronica – as well as engineers who work for firms like Airwave, Telefonica/O2 and Ericsson which have a longstanding relationship with the union.

CWU assistant secretary Dave Jukes concludes: “Whatever company you work for the message from the CWU is the same: If you experience abusive behaviour in the course of trying to carry out your job, first and foremost prioritise your physical or mental safety and remove yourself from the situation as best you can.

“Make sure the incident is formally recorded and that your manager is aware of what has happened – but, on top of that, ALWAYS inform your local rep or CWU Branch – because it’s only by being aware of the abusive situations that members experience that the CWU can, both locally and nationally, ensure that steps are taken to address the issue and provide any support that is needed.”