Analysis Announcement Breaking

999 call handlers walk out Thurs with tens of thousands of other BT Group workers

More than 500 999 operators will strike along with 40,000 other BT workers

More than five hundred 999 operators will strike this Thursday – alongside some 40,000 of their BT Group colleagues – with more strikes planned throughout the month. Serious disruption to emergency services is expected to result.

Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents for BT Group workers, will walk out on Thursday 6th October. Further strikes are planned for Monday 10 , Thursday 20  and Monday 24 October.

Workers taking action against the failure of BT to offer a fair pay deal include 30,000 Openreach engineers and 10,000 BT call-centre workers who have already taken action in previous months in their fight for fair pay. BT Group’s management has imposed a low, flat-rate pay rise of just £1,500 – which with RPI inflation levels already hitting 11.7% this year represents a major real-terms pay cut.

BT’s decision to impoverish its workers comes despite the company making £1.3 billion in annual profit, with CEO Philip Jansen gaining a £3.5 million pay package – a 32% wage increase – while the Big Issue and the BBC have reported instances of BT Group offices establishing food banks to assist employees.

The workers on strike look after the vast majority of Britain’s telecoms infrastructure, including mobile phone connections, broadband internet and back-up generators to national health systems, cyber security and data centres – and they are now joined by more than 500 operators in ‘999’ call centres across the country.

In previous strikes, it was agreed between the union and the company that these workers would be exempt from the strike, and that a certain number of workers would be available to work at any given time, but after widespread outrage at the company’s refusal to negotiate with union representatives, these workers will now be joining their company colleagues.

The union’s General Secretary Dave Ward said BT was putting,

lives… at risk because a company’s top brass won’t listen to workers. This decision was not taken lightly, but our union’s repeated attempts to initiate discussions was declined by a management who clearly believe they are above negotiating a fair deal for people who make massive profits for them.

999 operators are using foodbanks, they’re worried about the cost of living and are being stretched to the limit. Good will won’t pay the bills, and vital services are now being hampered because of corporate greed. BT management clearly has no appreciation of its workforce, or their social value. But this union does, and we will keep on fighting this company’s attempt to plunge its workers into even further hardship.”

CWU Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr added:

It is downright disgraceful that BT Group’s refusal to treat its members with an ounce of dignity has come to this.

Time and time again, we have asked for negotiations to resolve what may well be a dangerous dispute for many, only to be ignored by a senior management that could not be less interested in addressing the anger that exists in their workplaces.

This is a problem created by corporate greed – and as usual, its effects will be felt by ordinary people. But BT Group workers are determined and united. They will fight hard to get the proper pay rise they deserve.”

Public support for workers striking to protect them and to fight for fair pay, terms and conditions remains strong.

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  1. If these figures are correct then, (£1,300,000,000.00+ £3,500,000.00)/40,500 people=
    £32,185.00. So a reasonable rise is well within BT’s margin.

  2. I like these strike actions. It’s like a ‘rolling General Strike’, but we could do with more Unions involved.

    That would be where we separate the wheat from the chaff.

  3. Place all the Unions in a big old burlap sack, give them a damned good shaking, let all the NEO-Labour TORIES/Chaff drop out and we’d be on a roll!

  4. Perhaps not their wisest move. I suppose it depends on who you think people will blame for the consequences if they aren’t able to contact the emergency services quicky enough. Is it a risk worth taking?

  5. In 1978 peoples’ support for the huge strikes, in that winter of discontent, ended when Gravediggers went on strike, and make-shift morgues were set up in warehouses, delaying funerals.

    For 999 emergency callers to strike, when ambulances are in such short supply already and NHS A & Es overwhelmed, means people will die, which includes children.

    But if needs must, then people need to take their loved ones direct by taxi or own car to A & E.

    1. Reply to Gray Swans
      I joined a Trade Union when I got my first job and was a trade union activist all my working life.
      Strike action is always a last resort – workers want to work and earn money not strike . Some people who have been commenting on this and other threads about strikes seem to forget the short term financial hardship that strikes cost workers – it will be particularly hard for them now given the cost of living crisis. They are only taking strike action now because management has left them with no other
      Few Unions can afford to pay Strike pay to all strikers but members in dire financial straits will probably be able to access a welfare fund of some sort. However it has been my experience that most members try to get by without asking the union for help. It is a matter of principle for them but it will be very difficult in the current economic situation
      I am in total agreement with you about the loss of support in 1978 and your assessment of what will happen if all emergency services operators go on strike is 100% accurate. The Union will be aware of this too and will undoubtedly make some kind of arrangements for basic 999 cover.
      I wish all our brothers and sisters well in the coming action. They are entitled to and deserve a fair days pay for a fair days work. Solidarity.

  6. The BT Annual Report 2022 is here –

    Profit is given as £1.274bn (p129)
    Total Staff costs £4.845bn (p144)
    Basic Earnings per share 12.9p (13%)
    The size of the workforce is c. 100,000
    If each worker were awarded £1500 then the cost of this would be £150m or 12% of profit. So together shareholder dividend + wage rises = 25% of profit.

    I’d depart from the suggestion above that you take all the profit and divide it by the number of workers and there’s your room for manoeuvre – realistically, if you are not reinvesting something in maintaining or even developing the business then the prospect of retaining or even growing the workforce is much diminished (and yes you could borrow that money to invest but borrowing is no longer at attractive rates). It does seem wrong to accord parity (actually slightly more favourable toward shareholders) to the % assigned to reward workers and shareholders – the latter have done sweet FA rather than being in possession of excess cash and, even in these times 5% return seems better than would be possible elsewhere. So even if you kept to the 25% of profit split between shareholders and workers, aligning this 20/5 in favour of the workers doesn’t seem unfair and would amount to a flat payment of over £2500 per worker. A flat rate payment does favour those on lower wages rather than those on more (and the whole thing is undermined if you exclude the CEO and bung them a cool £3.5m!) and allocating 20% of profit to wage increases still seems miserly and actually counter-productive given that it risks an exodus of workers that have been expensively trained and having to recruit in a market starved of labour.

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