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Strike ballot to go ahead despite British Telecom's belated new pay offer

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Logo of British Telecom.
Image: ©® BT Group.

The UK's Communication Workers' Union have effectively rejected a belated revised pay offer by telecoms giant British Telecom. Their statement, released early this evening, indicates a formal ballot on strike action is inevitable – unless the company revises their two percent offer for 2010.

The deadline set by the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) passed at noon last Friday, apparently unheeded by BT. The union's announcement of their intent to ballot members apparently resulted in the offer — one with no new money on the table for this year.

Last week, when their ultimatum was ignored, CWU deputy secretary general (DSG) Andy Kerr expressed deep disappointment, citing the substantial profits made by the company in the last financial year: "[w]e're obviously very disappointed that BT has not improved its pay offer of 2% despite their healthy profits this year."

Logo of the United Kingdom's CWU.

The turnaround from losses of £244 million to a billion-pound-plus profit has, the union claims, galvanised their membership into seriously considering industrial action. Reports of senior directors receiving million-pound bonuses, and former Labour minister Patricia Hewitt landing over over £50,000 extra per-year, are characterised as "directors' 'snouts in the trough'". Hewitt was suspended from her parliamentary party in March over cash-for-access accusations, and works two to three days each month on BT's remuneration committee.

The UK's Press Association described the now-rejected offer as being worth 2% this year, and an additional 3% in 2011 with staff bonuses of up to £250. The package supposedly contains pledges on no compulsory redundancies and the return of call centre and non-frontline work from outsource companies in India.

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Should BT staff strike over a sub-inflation rise when the company is paying shareholder dividends?

Wikinews called both the Communication Workers' Union, and British Telecom, seeking clarification on a number of points. Richard Knowles, a BT press officer in London, forwarded their terse sub-400-word statement, refusing to be drawn on reports that the offer includes the repatriation of call centre and back-office jobs. When challenged on this work being carried out in a jurisdiction with less-stringent data protection, and computer misuse legislation, our reporter was referred back to the company's statement.

Sian Jones of the CWU's Press Office, commenting prior to the union's evening statement, remarked that repatriation of call centre work was an issue that the union had prior, unrelated, discussions with BT about; she gave no indication to Wikinews this was, or was not, part of BT's revised offer.

File photo of ADSL technology, as installed in telephone exchanges, for the provision of consumer broadband services.
Image: Punchy.

The press release, shortly after 1630 BST, expressed clear intent to carry on with the process of balloting members on strike action. In the statement, CWU DGS Andy Kerr states, "[w]e're very disappointed that BT's revised offer remains materially unchanged for this year in terms of pay."

Continuing, he emphasised, "[...] we've made clear, 2 per cent is unacceptable for our members as it does not reflect the reward they expect given the contribution they have made to cost savings of £1.75 billion and profits of over £1bn. In addition, inflation is at 5.3 per cent and staff are comparing this offer with the large salary rises and bonuses for senior executives which expose the blatant double standards being adopted by the company when it comes to remuneration."

The CWU statement also expresses concern over BT's disclosure of details within the offer; "BT's decision to leak their offer to the media today has also raised trust issues for us with the company."

Any sustained action by CWU members in BT's employ could have a major impact on the country's communication infrastructure. Millions of UK households and businesses are reliant on BT for internet access – in addition to telephony services.

Following the release of their statement, the CWU's Sian Jones confirmed that the union had not, as-yet, given BT the formal seven-days notice of balloting members on strike action.

Any ballot would run for a two-week period; following such, the union would, again, be required to give seven days notice to BT; this time of their intent to take workers out on strike. She emphasised, "nobody wants to be on strike", stressing that the union last took such action in 1987, and would prefer round-table discussions and an improved offer.

The structure of BT's privatisation, and breakup to permit level playing-field telephony and broadband competition, would see other Internet service providers who rely on the ageing, once GPO-owned, copper POTS infrastructure unable to resolve customer faults. According to the CWU, BT has been querying managerial staff on their skillsets – as a form of preparation for any industrial action. A union spokesperson described this as "laughable".

When called for comment on the union's rejection of their revised offer, the BT press office declined to comment at this time.


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