Around 40,000 telecoms workers are expected strike for the first time in 35 years after the company recorded huge profits but only meagre passed on a meagre pay rise to staff
Today sees the start of a two-day strike by BT and Openreach workers, with over 260 picket lines being set up across the UK, according to the Communication Workers Union (CWU).
The conflict has arisen as a result of a companywide flat rate pay rise of £1,500 announced back in April. BT says this is the largest frontline worker pay rise it has given out in 20 years, but the unions say that this is a ‘pay cut in real terms’, given that inflation is nearing 10% in the UK.
At a time when the cost-of-living crisis is hitting everyone across the country, BT has also been accused of setting up a ‘food bank’ for staff at one of its EE call centres in Tyneside, with critics suggesting this was normalising in-work poverty.
The operator argues that its “CommunitEE pantry” is not a food bank, but rather a voluntary initiative where staff can take and leave food, saying staff might use it on days when they “don’t have time to visit the supermarket”.
This was also announced against the backdrop of a largely successful year for BT, which last year saw profits of £1.3 billion. Roughly $700 million was paid out to shareholders in 2021 and CEO Philip Jansen received a pay rise of 32% to £3.5 million.
"This dispute sits squarely at the feet of Philip Jansen (BT’s chief executive). He represents everything that needs to change about big business in Britain,” said the CWU’s general secretary, Dave Ward. "Our members kept the country connected during the pandemic. They deserve a proper pay rise, and that’s what they’re going to get."
BT, however, says that its exhaustive negotiations with the unions have failed and that it is not prepared to offer a pay increase to workers.
When asked by the Financial Times if he would consider increasing staff salary further, Jansen reportedly answered “why would I do that?”, telling the newspaper “it’s history”.
"We have confirmed to the CWU that we won’t be re-opening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could,” said BT in an official statement.
"We’re balancing the complex and competing demands of our stakeholders and that includes making once-in-a-generation investments to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks, vital for the UK economy and for BT Group’s future – including our people.
"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.”
Unlike rail and postal strikes, striking telecoms workers will not mean an immediate shut down of services for customers. BT says it has implemented “tried and tested processes” to manage any disruption that the strikes may cause to its operations.
Nonetheless, the walkout of around 28,000 engineers and 9,000 call centre workers today and on Monday next week is sure to cause some disruption, the true extent of which has yet to become clear.
Will industrial action have a major impact on BT’s ability to meet national rollout goals? Join the operators in discussion at this year’s live Connected Britain conference