BT staff are to go on strike on 29 July and 1 August in the first nationwide action at the telecoms company in 35 years, with consequences for customers across the country having broadband services installed or faults fixed.
The two 24-hour strikes by BT engineers and call centre staff belonging to the Communication Workers Union represents the majority of its 58,000-strong frontline workforce.
The CWU has said customers can expect disruption to services including repairs, having new phone and internet lines fitted or getting hold of contact and support staff.
It is the first strike action at BT since 1987, and the first national call centre workers’ strike. The UK’s largest telecoms company has been in dispute with the CWU, which represents about 40,000 of the firm’s 100,000 workforce, over pay as the cost of living soars.
“These are the same workers who kept the country connected during the pandemic,” said Dave Ward, the union’s general secretary. “Without CWU members in BT Group, there would have been no homeworking revolution, and vital technical infrastructure may have malfunctioned or been broken when our country most needed it.”
The union represents about 9,000 call centre workers and more than 28,000 engineers at the BT-owned Openreach, which maintains the UK’s broadband network.
The CWU members who work at EE, the BT-owned mobile operator, will not be part of the strike after the 2,000 who voted fell just eight short of the number legally required, even though 95.8% voted in favour of striking.
A spokesperson for Openreach, which employs more than 35,000 staff, mostly engineers, said the company has contingency plans in place if a strike goes ahead.
“We respect the choice of our colleagues who are members of the union to strike and we’ll do everything we can to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the UK connected during any industrial action,” said a spokesperson.
“We have tried and tested processes to help us manage impacts of reductions in available workforce, as we proved during the pandemic and we’ll continue to focus on keeping our network running, safely and effectively, as we do every day.”
In April, BT gave 58,000 workers a £1,500 pay rise that it said was its biggest award in two decades. The CWU, which is pushing for a 10% rise at BT as inflation reached a 40-year high of 9.1% last month, described the offer as “insulting” and a “relative pay cut”.
The BT chief executive, Philip Jansen, who received a 32% pay rise last year, taking his package to £3.5m including bonuses and share awards, has said the company cannot afford to sweeten its staff deal. BT made almost £2bn in profits for the year to the end of March, with shareholders receiving £700m in dividends.
A BT spokesperson said: “While we respect the choice of our colleagues who are CWU members to strike, we will work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected.
“We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimise any disruption for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.”
July 15, 2022 at 09:39PM Mark Sweney