VMO2 agrees to new talks as CWU reiterates red lines on payTelecoms & Financial Services, Virgin Media May 20 2022
The steely resolve of the CWU to ballot for industrial action unless VMO2 improves on a “paltry and insulting” imposed pay settlement that represents significant real-term salary cuts over the next two years has secured the belated offer of new talks by management.
The company’s move – which the union hopes implies a readiness on the part of bosses to meaningfully reconsider the imposition of unagreed pay rises totalling just 3% pay rise this year and 2% in 2023 – follows an unprecedented outpouring of anger amongst members who are already struggling with the cost of living crisis and acutely aware that inflation is projected to top 10% by the end of the year.
Hot on the heels of last month’s consultative ballot result – in which a staggering 95.7% of participants (on a 72.5% turnout) signalled their outright rejection of the imposed settlement – the CWU wrote to VMO2 on April 20 detailing the ballot outcome and inviting the company to re-open discussions on pay.
Following a week’s radio silence from the company, CWU Annual Conference in Bournemouth delivered a further demonstration of the union’s resolve on the issue, with delegates issuing a stark ultimatum to bosses.
CWU national officer Tracey Fussey explains: “Given the ballot outcome and the phenomenally high level of correspondence from VMO2 members with regards to the imposed settlement, the CWU Executive took the extraordinary step of taking an Emergency Motion to Conference seeking endorsement for a statutory industrial action ballot if a negotiated pay deal is not achieved.
“That Emergency Motion was debated and unanimously agreed by delegates, following which the CWU wrote again to VM02 on April 27 advising them of Conference’s decision and, once again, inviting them to reopen pay talks.
“I’m pleased to say that, late last week, we finally received confirmation from VM02 that they are willing to meet with ourselves to discuss our concerns and have committed to hold a further initial meeting.
“The CWU welcomes this development, as it has always been our preferred position to maintain an ongoing and constructive dialogue with VMO2 – though I have to caution that real movement is required from the company to avert what could easily become a full-blown dispute.”
Soundbites from Conference…
The visceral unfairness of VMO2’s attempt to impose a significant real-term pay cut on comparatively low-paid employees while simultaneously increasing customer bills by 11.7% and continuing with the payout of full dividends to shareholders on the basis of healthy profits – prompted a united show of defiance from CWU Annual Conference.
Following on from assistant secretary Tracey Fussey’s earlier message to management that “if you can bust inflation with your prices, there’s no reason why you can’t at least match it with your wages”, the CWU national officer stressed: “We cannot sit idly by as our members are handed a pay deal that sees their living standards go backwards.
“This company can afford to pay our members more than this paltry and insulting rise – this is simply a matter of choice.”
Referring to the national industrial action ballot that will take place if negotiations fail to produce an agreed way forward, Tracey pledged: “We will have the courage to ballot if we need to – and, if necessary, to call action.”
Welcoming that message, a representative of Preston Brook, Bury & Retail Branch observed: “It’s not long ago that VM amalgamated with O2…and until now we’ve been circling each other, but this pay dispute is where the battle lines are being drawn.
“The good news is that it’s not just higher level management watching us, because Virgin staff members are riveted to see how this dispute progresses, . and they want us to succeed.”
Graham Colk of South Wales Branch added: “It seems we have a situation where the CEOs of various companies are getting together and saying ‘this is the time to take on the union’, wondering what our response will be. Well, I tell you the answer: We’ve got to fight this, because if we enable imposed pay rises this year or next year there will be a year where there won’t be a pay rise but a pay cut, and years where terms and conditions are cut.”
Steve Phillips of Central Counties and Thames Valley Branch pledged his branch total support in any dispute, as did Jeffrey Till of Greater London Combined.
North West regional secretary Carl Webb concluded: “It seems like every member we have in this union is under attack at the moment…and I just want to say that our VMO2 members have the full backing of our Region.”