SERIOUS disruption to emergency services has been predicted as 999 call handlers are set to walk out with colleagues in BT Group for the first time.
Members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) will be walking out on Thursday, October 6 with further strikes planned for Monday 10, Thursday 20 and Monday 24.
These strikes include the 30,000 Openreach engineers and 10,000 BT call centre workers who have previously taken action in opposition to BT Group management's imposition of a flat-rate pay rise of £1500.
Now, more than 500 operators in 999 call centres across the country will join them.
In previous strikes, it was agreed between the union and the company that these workers would be exempt from the strike, and that a certain number would be available to work at any given time.
However, they will now join their company colleagues as union bosses claim there is "widespread outrage at the company's refusal to negotiate with union representatives".
Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary, said: "This dispute is modern Britain in a nutshell: lives are at risk because a company’s top brass won’t listen to workers.
"This decision was not taken lightly, but our union’s repeated attempts to initiate discussions was declined by a management who clearly believe they are above negotiating a fair deal for people who make massive profits for them.
"999 operators are using foodbanks, they’re worried about the cost of living and are being stretched to the limit.
"Goodwill won’t pay the bills, and vital services are now being hampered because of corporate greed.
"BT management clearly has no appreciation of its workforce, or their social value.
"But this union does, and we will keep on fighting this company’s attempt to plunge its workers into even further hardship."
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: "It is downright disgraceful that BT Group’s refusal to treat its members with an ounce of dignity has come to this.
"Time and time again, we have asked for negotiations to resolve what may well be a dangerous dispute for many, only to be ignored by a senior management that could not be less interested in addressing the anger that exists in their workplaces.
"This is a problem created by corporate greed – and as usual, its effects will be felt by ordinary people.
"But BT Group workers are determined and united.
"They will fight hard to get the proper pay rise they deserve."
A BT Group spokesperson said: "We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, whilst we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action, we are profoundly disappointed that the CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action by including 999 services in strikes.
"We will do whatever it takes to protect 999 services – redeploying our people to the most important priority is a normal part of BT Group operations.
"We made the best pay award we could in April and we have held discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here.
"In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected."