Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) members at BT call centres and Openreach are on strike once again. It’s now the eighth walk-out in the union’s current phase of industrial action. However, the CWU is taking another step in its fight for fair pay and conditions. It’s going directly to BT shareholders and urging them to support CWU members.
CWU: a “bitter dispute” with BT
Currently, 40,000 workers – including 999 call handlers, BT call centre workers and Openreach engineers – are taking strike action. It’s in what the union calls an “increasingly bitter dispute over pay”. BT imposed a flat-rate pay award onto workers – without consulting the CWU first. This was originally an extra £1,200 a year. BT then upped this to £1,500 – which meant a 3-8% increase for workers. However, this is of course an effective pay cut when you factor in spiralling UK inflation – currently at 10.1%. Worse still, the Bank of England says inflation will hit 11% soon, with some analysts saying 14% is possible in the next few months.
The CWU claims the paltry BT pay offer is “despite [BT] making £1.3bn in profits” and “handing record pay-outs to senior executives and shareholders”. It also says the £1,500 pay offer is despite:
Philip Jansen, the BT CEO… [receiving] a £3.5 million pay package… [Jansen] refuses to engage in talks to resolve this dispute.
The union says this was a 32% rise in Jansen’s overall remuneration package. On Monday 24 October, workers engaged in the last day of their current round of striking. The CWU says they have “been incensed by both the hypocrisy of the company but latterly their anti-strike propaganda”. So the union is taking things further.
Getting BT shareholders on board
The CWU is trying to organise a meeting with BT shareholders. It wants shareholders and “the media to expose the actions” of Jansen. CWU general secretary Dave Ward said in a press release:
Meeting the shareholders of BT Group is the natural next step – it should demonstrate to the company that we won’t relent until we have exposed them and changed the course of this dispute. Alongside these external pressures, BT workers will take further strike action if needed.
Morale is at an all-time low – we have an out of control, out of touch CEO who is counting his money while his employees are using foodbanks. This is just not right, and we will not stop fighting until our members gain a proper pay rise.
It’s unclear at this point what any shareholder meeting would look like. However, given that the CWU is claiming its strike action has caused cracks to appear in BT Group, and the company’s share price has been steadily falling in recent months, shareholders may take up the CWU’s offer.
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said:
Our members are standing strong – they know supporting the union is not only the right thing to do, it’s the only thing to do. Despite being impacted by the worst cost of living crisis in memory, CWU members are fighting back. Today’s strike turnout is rock solid once again, and this will remain the case until BT wake up and get back around the negotiating table to settle this dispute.
Now, workers must wait to see what the outcome of their union’s shareholder meeting request is. As always, the CWU is acting in their best interests. It will be interesting to see if the shareholders do the same.
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