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BT call centre workers and 30,000 Openreach engineers’ ‘historic’ vote for strike against ‘weak, insulting’ pay cut

More than 90% of ballots support strike against ‘bullying’ pay imposition

A BT call centre (image: BT publicity photo)

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.

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  1. Bloody brilliant! Now all the Unions need is a party to give them and all the workers a Voice, The Workers Party GB. All of you affiliate and join. We need to fuck this vile party of betrayal “Liebour” and move on.

      1. Andrew – Why are you getting your knickers in such a twist?

      2. Andrew – What on earth are you wittering on about, or are you still trying to work that one out?

  2. Believe me when I say to work at a BT Call Centre for an Agency is not good
    Thought I had buried that one, thanks for reminding me

  3. These workers will be vilified by the government, the MSM and probably the repulsive David Lammy too (who now claims he misheard the question when he shot his mouth off about not supporting rail staff) for contemplating strike action.
    They have got to realise that strikes are inevitable when workers are underpaid and exploited and senior management are overpaid and doing the exploiting. In my opinion we can expect to hear about further strike ballots across the board in the weeks and months to come.

  4. It is beginning. More will join. More will realise the power of solidarity.

    Fingers crossed we can unite before the real problems start to hit hard.

  5. ‘As they walked into the factory/office/shop/school/depot.
    But the machines/computers/buses/trains they all were dead.
    Then the workers turned the bloody things on.
    And the owners too they were fed, but much, much better fed.’
    Solidarity to diverse workers facing a Militant Neo-Liberal Tory Govt as Right Wing Labour & the Lib Dem’s run away?
    Think the unions need to create a new political wing as the old one is broken and stands for crumbs and mediocrity!

  6. The efficacy of strikes has changed post COVID but the growing head of steam is such that Johnson will rue the day that he didn’t use the vote of confidence numbers to make some semblance of a dignified exit.

    1. Tim, I wouldn’t like to be in charge of the Govt this winter, thanks to Johnson this Country is in for one hell of a rocky ride. Hold tight.

    2. Seems to me that the words “Johnson” and “dignified” are mutually exclusive.

      1. goldbach, I can’t disagree with you. For very different reasons I think Johnson and Putin may be granted a little longer in office so as to allow their replacements maximum deniability and distance from the stench they have generated.

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