BT workers vote overwhelmingly to strike in a dispute over pay

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Some 95.8 per cent of BT Openreach workers voted in favour of the strike (AFP via Getty Images)
Some 95.8 per cent of BT Openreach workers voted in favour of the strike (AFP via Getty Images)

Tens of thousands of BT workers have voted overwhelmingly to strike in a dispute over pay, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) announced.

BT is facing the first national strike since the company was privatised in the 1980s, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said.

About 30,000 BT Openreach workers were balloted earlier this month for the industrial action. A huge 95.8 per cent of them voted in favour of the strike on a turnout of 74.8 per cent.

It was the first time that a group of call centre workers had voted for industrial action, Mr Ward said.

Thousands of call centre workers – the vast majority working from home – are employed by BT Group, and 91.5 per cent of them voted for strike action on a turnout of 58.2 per cent.

Mr Ward said he expected BT to offer a “significantly improved” pay rise by next week or strike dates will be set.

Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary at the CWU, said that workers were known to be struggling with the cost of living to such an extent that there were workplace food banks.

He also emphasised the critical role that workers play in sensitive communications, including 999 calls and in delivering services across Whitehall and other agencies, such as the Ministry of Defence.

CWU has said that BT posted profits of £1.3 billion last year and that the pay of BT CEO Philip Jansen has risen by 32 per cent over the same time.

A vote by CWU members at EE failed by a few votes to reach the legal threshold.

As the BT ballot results were being announced, Mr Ward said the Labour Party, under leader Sir Keir Starmer, seemed to be “picking a fight with working people” by not lending support to striking workers.

“I don’t know why the Labour party seems to be sitting on the fence,” he said.

It comes after shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said that he did not back a spate of strikes over the past month – before later apologising.

Last week, the MP for Tottenham said he did not support British Airways workers’ industrial action because he is “serious about the business of being in government”.

But this week he apologised to BA staff, who are members of Unite the union, saying that he had misunderstood their demands.

It comes after Unite general secretary Sharon Graham accused the Labour frontbencher of launching a “direct attack” on a group of workers who were “savagely attacked” by their bosses during the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter to his constituent, Mr Lammy reportedly wrote: “Last Sunday, in a live interview with the BBC, I misheard Sophie Raworth’s question about BA workers.

“When she said that workers wanted to reverse a previous pay cut of 10%, I mistakenly understood it to mean that they were seeking an above inflation pay rise.

“I was not across the details of the case. It is right that those of us in public life admit when they have made a mistake. With this in mind, I apologise to all BA workers.”

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