Frontline workers at BT and Openreach have gone on strike for the first time in 35 years in a dispute over pay.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) balloted nearly 40,000 Openreach engineers and BT call centre workers over industrial action after failing to reach an agreement with the company over a new pay deal that takes into account the rising cost of living.
BT had offered a £1,500 pay increase for staff at BT, Openreach, Plusnet, and EE, stating that this was an 8% increase for some employees and a rise of 3% for even the best-paid frontline workers. It said that this was the highest pay rise to frontline staff in more than two decades.
However, this offer was rejected by the CWU, which wants a 10% increase that reflects the 9.1% inflation rate and delivers a wage increase in real terms. The two sides failed to reach an agreement, leading to the first national strike since BT’s privatisation four decades ago.
EE staff members are not part of the walkabout after a ballot failed to reach the required turnout.
“Without CWU members working across BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution,” CWU general secretary Dave Ward said ahead of the strikes. “This work, which was done under great difficulty and often came with tremendous personal sacrifice, delivered £1.3 billion profits for the company.
“Over £700 million was paid out to shareholders. The company’s CEO, Philip Jansen, handed himself a £3.5 million pay package – a 32% increase. Over £700 million was paid out to shareholders, and the Chief Financial Officer was handed £2.2 million – a 25% increase.
“The reward for our members? The imposition of a below-inflation increase – the very same workers who delivered profits that more like lottery numbers than actual wages.”
Staff will walk out today and again on Monday 1st August, with picket lines are expected across the UK. The industrial action means there will be disruption to BT’s rollout of full fibre broadband, while customers who suffer from connection issues will find it difficult to contact customer services or get the fault resolved by an engineer.
BT says it is confidence that its contingency measures will minimise disruption and will postopone any non-essential planned engineering or software updates, similar to what it did during the pandemic or over holidays such as Christmas.
It added that it had no plans to reopen its 2022 pay review, stating it had heled “exhaustive discussions” with the CWU at the start of the year.
“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,” said a spokesperson.
“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.”
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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.