Thursday, August 11 2022

BT Group staff voted in favor of a strike for the first time in 35 years. If continued, the industrial action, backed by the Communications Workers Union (CWU), could leave many companies without support and could impact the national telecommunications infrastructure.

BT Group call center workers and Open Reach engineers voted to strike the multinational telecommunications company in a CWU ballot on June 30, 2022. (Photo by tillsonburg/iStock).

BT Group is the umbrella company that owns companies such as infrastructure subsidiary Openreach and mobile network EE. It has more than 1.2 million private and public sector customers.

Yesterday CWU announced that more than 40,000 BT Group members had been elected, including 30,000 Openreach engineers. On a participation rate of 74.8%, the engineers of the union voted 95.8% to strike.

This was followed by around 9,000 call center workers, who voted 91.5% out of a turnout of 58.2%. Members working for EE voted 95% in favor of the strike, although it was on a turnout of 49.7% which was just below the required action threshold.

The dates for the strikes have not yet been set.

Why are BT workers planning to strike?

According to the CWU, the dispute involves BT workers who oppose the company’s offer of a lump sum pay rise, while managers accept larger increases, according to the union.

“Earlier this year BT proposed and implemented a pay rise of £1,500 a year for employees,” the CWU said in its press release after the vote. “Against the backdrop of retail price index (RPI) inflation levels hitting 11.7% last month, this is a dramatic reduction in wages in real terms.”

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CWU says this is due to the company making a profit of £1.3billion in the last financial year, with CEO Philip Jansen receiving a 32% pay rise, taking his salary to 3, £5 million.

Dave Ward, CWU general secretary, says its members have faced the challenges of working from home, high staff turnover and a “real culture of fear created by senior management”. This helped sustain the strike.

“Call center workers are some of the most casual and isolated workers in this country,” Ward said. “These workers have kept this country connected during the pandemic. Without the CWU members working within the BT Group, there would have been no work-from-home revolution.

How did BT respond to the strike ballot?

BT Group said the ballot was a “disappointment” but it will strive to keep customers connected across the UK.

“BT Group has given its biggest pay rise to its frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average increase of 5% and up to 8% for those on the lowest salaries,” a statement said. of BT shared with Technical monitor. “At the same time, we are in the midst of a first-of-its-kind investment program to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks. These investments are vital for the benefit of our millions of customers and for the UK economy.

The company goes on to say that it balances the demands of business stakeholders, which require “prudent management in a challenging economic environment.” He is awaiting notification from the CWU of his intention to take industrial action, which requires a minimum notice period, he says.

How will the BT strike impact businesses and the public sector?

The strike has not been confirmed and it is still possible that negotiations will succeed between BT Group and CWU. The first workers could strike is at the end of July.

However, as BT Group is the largest fixed broadband provider in the UK, this could have serious infrastructure effects for everyone in the UK, especially those who work from home or are business customers. of BT Group, which cover the private and public sectors.

Communications providers (CPs) also rely on BT Group for wholesale mobile network capabilities, voice services, broadband, Ethernet and other connectivity solutions. Through Openreach, it wholesales access to the fixed network infrastructure at 690 CP.

In terms of contracts, BT Group has won ICT contracts with central and local government and police forces.

With nearly 40,000 workers potentially on strike, including 30,000 Openreach engineers, the ramifications of industrial action could be felt across central government, local authorities, CPs and private businesses of all types.

Rob Pritchard, senior analyst for GlobalData Technology’s Enterprise Technology and Services Networking team, said the strikes could impact three key areas for BT customers: repairs, installations and customer service.

“The immediate impact, if a strike were to take place, would be on things like installations and repairs because obviously it’s not like trains or the post office – most things are automated,” he said. he declares. Technical monitor. Customer service will also be impacted because, although chatbots provide some of the initial help online, people can always rely on someone when they need help with their products or services.

Businesses and public sector IT departments looking to contract BT need to start accelerating anything before the strike happens, especially if it’s urgent, Pritchard says. There is also potential reputational damage at a time when BT changes namemaking EE its flagship brand for consumer customers and keeping the BT name at the forefront of its B2B offering, he adds.

BT says it has “tried and tested processes” for large-scale co-worker absences to minimize disruption to customers, saying it has proven this during the pandemic. “As a precautionary measure, we are ready to do the same again if industrial action were to take place,” he said.

Read more: UK rail strikes come as cuts could leave network ‘too reliant’ on tech


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