The result of the ballot for strike action over pay in BT will be announced on 5 July. If Communication Workers members vote yes, the first strike under the Lib-Con government could be in the private sector.
The current offer from BT bosses is more than 2% less than the current rate of inflation, cuts the link with pensionable pay, and includes a profit related element. The issues are being discussed at a series of union meetings for BT members being held up and down the country. But management are also busy.
In call centres, and on repair and maintenance teams, staff (who rarely have team meetings) have been removed from front office and customer service functions to have “huddles”. There mangers are spreading misinformation about the union’s ballot, putting individuals under pressure, and removing union literature. Senior Mangers are touring around large sites, and junior and middle managers are being prepared to reacquaint themselves with life “back on the tools”.
BT have threatened to use contractors from Carillion and Telent during any period of strike action. They are particularly worried about service on Next Generation Access (the future superfast broadband network), the massive NHS IT contract, and services provided to Other Licenced Operators (OLOs) being affected during any strike action, and the penalty payments that they may subsequently incur.
Whilst the telecom sector has been liberalised since the mid 80s and there are many other firms active, BT is a giant in the market and provides many of the network services that the other firms (including mobile operators) rely on to provide their services.
Workers in one of the most profitable companies in a highly profitable sector should not be denied a pay rise. BT’s profits announced in April were 6%, costs were down £1.7 billion, the pension deficit was down, cash flow is up, and the dividend paid to shareholders is now 6%. Our claim is only for 5%! The fact that the BT Board are all getting between 5-7% pay rises and bonuses on top really rattles. The current “Effective Left” majority leadership on the Telecom’s executive (a rightward split from the Broad Left) is leading the pay negotiations and proposed the strike action. Previous industrial deals done by them, on pensions (where retirement age was increased and benefits decreased) and most recently on changes to attendance patterns in BT OpenReach, have eroded the credibility of the union among the membership.
Despite much appropriate criticism there is still overwhelming support for taking action.