BT agrees deal with union to avoid strike

BT CEO Philip jansen
(Image credit: BT)

BT has warded off the threat of industrial action after it reached an agreement with the Communications Workers Union (CWU) over the company’s planned modernisation programme.

Under the plans, BT will vacate its London St Paul headquarters in favour of a new head office and base its operations at around 30 sites across the UK.

It is hoped the changes will save £1.3 billion, allow the more streamlined company to react more rapidly to market trends, and means it can get closer to customers. It will also support Openreach’s full fibre rollout and EE’s investments in 5G.

BT strike avoided 

However, the programme will also involve the loss of 13,000 jobs, mainly in back office and middle management roles, with new positions created in engineering and customer service.

Negotiations with the CWU, which represents 45,000 BT staff, had been ongoing for several months with a first national strike in 30 years a possibility if discussions fell through. In March, BT promised 60,000 staff a £1,500 bonus to recognise their work during the pandemic and in May the CWU agreed to suspend a strike ballot.

The deal will see BT adopt a new set of “principles” which it says will ensure any staff will be treated fairly and that the number of compulsory redundancies will be as low as possible.

“The new set of principles, covering areas such as pay and redundancy, will ensure our colleagues continue to be treated fairly and with respect as we focus on growth, simplifying customer journeys, reducing the number of systems we have and transforming our offices into future fit workplaces,” said BT.

“As we expand our full fibre broadband and 5G mobile networks, our products and services are helping to power the nation’s economic recovery from the pandemic. Our frontline colleagues play a vital role in keeping our customers and the country connected, which is why reaching this agreement with the CWU is critical.”

BT has agreed to implement a pay increase, based on several factors, next year, while it has also agreed to look at the timing and location of some of the sites due to be closed in order to minimise the impact on staff. During the next 12 months, only sites where it anticipates people could feasibly move to another site.

Ultimately, however, there are no changes to the locations and sites previously announced. BT has said it hopes that its vision of a “leaner, simpler, more agile organisation” will mostly be achieved through natural staff turnover which is around 10,000 a year. It added that it would do everything it could to avoid compulsory redundancies, including reskilling, retraining, and relocating staff where it could and seeking volunteers for redundancy.

“Reaching this agreement is the culmination of intensive negotiations between BT and the CWU and it also recognises their role as a critical stakeholder as BT moves forward with its modernisation plans,” added BT.

“The continued support and dedication of our colleagues, our unions and their members is paramount and the agreement announced today will allow us to progress BT’s modernisation agenda and enable us to achieve our cost savings targets. Our outlook therefore remains unchanged.”

The CWU has been approached for comment.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.