BT is looking down the barrel of its first strike action in over 33 years. The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which is still actively considering a national strike, has warned that its action could have a “massive impact” on broadband connections and speed across the UK. In a bid to prevent the strike from going ahead, BT this week proposed a “special bonus” of £1,500 to 59,000 frontline workers across the country to recognise their huge effort to keep people connected.
Under the latest plan, BT would hand-out £1,000 in cash to workers, with the remaining £500 paid in shares after three years. According to BT, that bonus is equivalent to roughly five percent of the average BT salary for its frontline workers. BT has branded it a “generous offer” and highlighted that it has frozen pay across the company.
Philip Jansen, BT Group CEO, said: “BT has made a massive contribution to the national cause over the past year: we’ve supported the NHS, families and businesses, and avoided the use of redundancy or furlough in our response to the pandemic. Our frontline colleagues and key workers have been true heroes, keeping everyone connected in this most difficult time. BT has delivered for our customers through the dedication of all our people, but inevitably the pandemic hit our financial performance, like that of most companies. In this context, we have to prioritise and I am determined that we will do everything in our power to reward our frontline colleagues.”
The Communication Workers Union represents around 45,000 of BT staff. It has warned that industrial action could have severe impacts on the stability of BT broadband, landline phones and its mobile network. BT also owns and operates EE and Plusnet, meaning vast numbers could be cut-off or slowed down by the strike. With millions of us still working from home and reliant on our broadband connection to work, study, or socialise with friends and family in the evening – it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
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According to the CWU, it took the decision to move towards a national industrial action ballot over an “unprecedented and sustained assault on job security and hard-won terms and conditions”. If passed, the walkouts would begin in late spring.
The fallout between the union and BT concern the telecom company’s plans to close sites across the country over the next few years to concentrate its operations in 30 sites. This is partly due to BT’s accelerated push towards fibre broadband and 5G networks.
“We didn’t pick this fight,” said CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.
“In fact we’ve provided management with every possible opportunity to step back from the brink, consistently offering to work in partnership with the business to address whatever challenges it faces – just as we’ve done on numerous occasions over the decades since privatisation.
“What we’re not prepared to accept, however, is seeing members’ cherished job security and Ts&Cs being attacked on multiple fronts – with longstanding colleagues being picked off one by one, simply because a new breed of management wants to stamp its mark by making compulsory redundancies as a matter of warped principle.
“If BT don’t want us to ballot then they can have us back round the negotiating table just as soon as they want. Our door is still open, and we want to resolve this dispute, but this will require a huge shift in attitude from the company. At this point in time that doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen – and that’s why we’re gearing up to fight.”