More than 90% of ballots support strike against ‘bullying’ pay imposition
Call centre workers have voted for the first national call centre strike in British history, as Communication Workers Union (CWU) members at BT Group – notably including 30,000 Openreach engineers – have voted to strike against an “unjust”, “unsustainable” pay imposition.
At a press conference today, the CWU – the union for all BT Group employees – announced that on a 74.8% turnout, the union’s 30,000 Openreach engineers have voted by 95.8% to take strike action. This number was followed by workers in BT, including approximately 9,000 call centre workers, who have voted by 91.5% on a 58.2% turnout for strike action.
The dispute relates to BT workers opposing company management’s imposition of an incredibly low flat-rate pay rise. Earlier this year, BT imposed a £1,500 per year pay increase for employees – which, in the context of RPI inflation levels hitting 11.7% last month, is a dramatic real-terms pay cut.
The company made £1.3 billion in annual profit and paid its chief executive Philip Jansen a £3.5 million package – a 32% increase.
If strike goes ahead, it will be the first at BT Group since 1987. The potential strike action will have a serious effect on infrastructure, particularly on the roll-out of broadband, and may cause significant issues for those working from home.
CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said:
For the first time in nearly four decades, we are faced with national level strike action across BT Group. Our membership faced the challenges of home working, high staff turnover, and a real culture of fear created by senior management, to deliver an overwhelming show of support for strike action.
I want to pay specific tribute to our call centre workers in BT, who have delivered a historic move by voting for the first – and biggest – national call centre workers strike in British history.
Call centre workers are some of the most casualised and isolated workforces in this country. They are notoriously difficult to organise, and the unprecedented vote they have taken today demonstrates the anger so many people feel in this country today.
Our members were never going to accept imposition. BT Group thought they could get away with bullying treatment – they were wrong.
These workers kept this country connected during the pandemic. Without CWU members working across BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution.
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… our members, and working people in general, have had enough.
We will not accept seeing workers use food banks while executives use Swiss banks. For too long now, corporate bosses have been rewarded for wrecking companies, chipping away at workers’ conditions so their rich mates to get even richer.
This situation is unjust, but it’s also untenable – people will not work harder and harder for less and less forever.
CWU Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr added:
I would firstly like to pay tribute to our members, who have resoundingly rejected the undignified way they have been treated by BT. This vote has shown the power of our members, who will not simply accept such a dramatic deterioration of their living conditions.
At the beginning of this ballot, we said we would be still open to negotiations. Our word still stands, and we still commit to meaningful discussions. We invite BT Group to remove this weak, insulting pay imposition in favour of a fresh offer.
I sincerely hope that this result will make them come to their senses. But make no mistake – if BT Group do not respond in kind, we will not hesitate to serve notice for strike action.
Our members deserve respect and dignity. That means a proper pay rise – and they are going to get it.”
More than 40,000 members across BT Group were balloted. Openreach Engineers work mainly as lone workers, accounting for approximately 30,000 of the workers asked whether they wanted to take action. More than 80% of the group’s approximately 9,000 work from home, making traditional methods of trade union organising incredibly difficult and underlining still further the historic nature of the vote.
The union’s campaign included in person and virtual membership meetings, live Q&A sessions between members and representatives, video messages hitting over two million view, and an overall social media reach of well over five million.
The BT Group ballot represents the biggest call centre strike ballot in British history. CWU workers at Royal Mail and in Post Offices have already voted in favour of strike action.
Members balloted in EE voted in favour of strike action by 95% on a 49.7% turnout, falling short by less than a single percentage point of passing the threshold imposed by the 2016 anti-union laws.
SKWAWKBOX needs your help. The site is provided free of charge but depends on the support of its readers to be viable. If you’d like to help it keep revealing the news as it is and not what the Establishment wants you to hear – and can afford to without hardship – please click here to arrange a one-off or modest monthly donation via PayPal or here to set up a monthly donation via GoCardless (SKWAWKBOX will contact you to confirm the GoCardless amount). Thanks for your solidarity so SKWAWKBOX can keep doing its job.
If you wish to republish this post for non-commercial use, you are welcome to do so – see here for more.