Telecoms giant BT is potentially facing its first national strike in 33 years after staff expressed their willingness to take industrial action over compulsory redundancies, site closures and changes to pay, terms and conditions.
More than 74% of 45,000 members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) were balloted across the BT Group, which includes infrastructure division Openreach and mobile operator EE, and 98% voted in favour of taking industrial action ahead of a formal strike ballot.
The message from our members could not be clearer: the ball is in BT’s court” – Dave Ward, CWU
The CWU described the ballot as the most important vote involving the CWU’s entire BT Group membership since a national strike in 1987.
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “For a long time BT Group has been claiming that our union does not speak for the employees and that people are happy with the direction of the company. This result shows how laughable those claims are and have always been. This moment should act as a reality check for management and it gives them one final chance to avoid a massive industrial dispute in 2021.
“Our members – many of them key workers – have made it crystal clear today that they will not support an agenda of compulsory redundancies, site closures and a ‘race to the bottom’ on terms and conditions. BT Group ignores that message at its peril, and the CWU will be moving immediately to seek an urgent meeting with senior management in an attempt to resolve this dispute and avoid disruption to the great service our members provide and customers receive.”
It ballot result comes after the Prospect union, which represents BT managers, this week launched a ballot on the group’s proposals to cut redundancy pay.
John Ferrett, Prospect national secretary, said: “BT has rejected union attempts to reach a compromise at every turn and has even ignored the findings of its own staff survey which showed that the proposals were overwhelmingly unpopular with workers. Prospect has been left with no option but to ballot members and recommend a rejection of the new terms.
“BT workers have gone above and beyond this year, keeping families, friends and workplaces connected throughout the pandemic. Prospect is urging BT to get back round the negotiating table and find some common ground.”
CWU general secretary Dave Ward commented: “Our members have stood up to be counted in this ballot and I have absolute confidence they would deliver in an official ballot as well. BT Group management are acting in a disgraceful manner and this union will not stand for it. We are today giving management the opportunity to return to the negotiating table with a serious offer to resolve this dispute. The message from our members could not be clearer: the ball is in BT’s court.”
A BT spokesperson said: “To adapt our business to meet the changing needs of our customers and remain competitive, BT is going through a period of immense change and investment to modernise for the future, including building faster, more reliable networks.
“Once complete, we will have a much simpler operating model with fewer people and we’ll be better able to serve our customers. For the most part, we will not fill roles as and when they become vacant and we will prioritise providing retraining and reskilling, learning and redeployment opportunities where we can. Our colleagues told us the ability to volunteer to leave BT is important to them. So, we have reaffirmed our commitment to use our voluntary paid leaver arrangements to minimise the need for redundancy.
“Although not statutory, we take the result of the consultative ballot seriously. We know that organisational change such as this is difficult and we’re consulting with unions at every step along the way.”