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CWU to Ballot on National Industrial Strike Over BT Changes UPDATE

Thursday, March 11th, 2021 (8:21 am) - Score 8,880
openreach 2017 female back engineer

The Communications Workers Union (CWU) last night announced, during a mass forum, that they have “taken the decision to move to an official national industrial action ballot” for all employees after failing to “resolve the points of disagreement” that exist between themselves and BT, Openreach and EE.

The BT Group has had a rough few years and as a result of that, as well as the need to invest £12bn into “full fibre” (FTTP) broadband (here) and to deploy 5G mobile, the operator has been busy restructuring itself and trying to cut cost (here). Naturally this has resulted in a variety of changes, such as the move to re-organise around a smaller number of regional offices, contract changes and job losses.

NOTE: The CWU represents around 45,000 staff across the BT Group.

The recent move by 170 of Openreach’s Repayment Project Engineers (RPE) to strike over the imposition of grading changes (here), which might affect areas like salaries, holidays and terms for newcomers, was thus largely seen as a test case for wider action in the future.

Last night the CWU decided that enough was enough and moved to start preparations for an official ballot on a national industrial strike across BT, Openreach and EE. The exact timetable for all this is due to be set out in the “coming weeks.

A BT Spokesperson said:

“We’re disappointed that CWU is contemplating industrial action, though the union has not started the formal industrial action process. We remain committed to discussing the concerns they have raised.

BT needs to go through a period of immense change and investment to modernise itself for the future. Once complete, we will have a much simpler operating model with fewer people and we’ll be better able to serve our customers. Such change is always difficult – that’s why we have been discussing our plans with the unions and will continue to do so.”

Karen Rose, President of the CWU, said:

“Your union has tried everything possible to resolve the point(s) of disagreement that there are between us and BT, Openreach and EE, and to do that in an amicable way. But tonight I’m here to announce that [we have] … taken the decision to move to official national industrial action ballot.”

At the time of writing the CWU has not yet put out an official press release, but they have uploaded a video of the announcement via Twitter (see below). But one thing this appears to lack is a clear message for why the CWU are moving to take such action, although that will no doubt flow more clearly as part of the campaign, and we’ve included a few examples above.

On the flip side BT once again finds itself caught between a rock and a hard place, with few good options open to it. At the same time the idea of holding strike action at a major communications’ provider, during the global COVID-19 pandemic, seems likely to divide opinions and some employees will no doubt be nervous about supporting it. We have contacted BT and Openreach for a comment.

UPDATE 9:31am

Added BT’s comment above.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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50 Responses
  1. A_Builder says:

    Odd you would have thought that from a PR angle and keeping member inside the ‘why’ was the most important bit.

    I can’t really see an undefined ‘why’ as triggering any public support.

    CWU need to be careful as everyone, including g their members acknowledge:

    a) the way BT/OR is organised is unsustainable; and

    b) going on strike with the economy where it is and businesses trying to start us is going to be a massive own goal.

    1. FibreBubble says:

      This was a message to members. Members who are well aware of the issues in dispute. Rather than a message to interested observers.

  2. Na says:


    The above shows the why. Job security, site closures, exploitative changes to terms.

    With recent news of the chair being ousted, plans to “take on apple” and then causing the first strike since 1987 you have to wonder what on earth is happening at BT under Phillip Jansen. It seems he wants to fight the world all at once. Is he really the right man for the job?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      To be fair all of this was largely kicked off under the previous CEO.

    2. Na says:

      To be fair Mark, the last ceo wasn’t ignoring the workforce, wasn’t saying “your site is safe” to everyone whilst planning closures (look at Aberdeen), the last ceo wasn’t cutting redundancy terms and didn’t force compulsory redundancies when other vacancies existed. He also didn’t knife his chair in the back then run sloppy pr to cover it up bringing into question his strategy and his temperament.

      So we can blame Gavin Patterson if you like, but it would be total bol**cks.

      Phillip Jansen is at war with his own workforce. He has lost the dressing room. He is a deceased parrot.

  3. NC says:

    Because they are making people compulsory redundant. They are attacking everyone’s terms and conditions. They are riding roughshod over agreements made with the CWU in 2018 when they closed the BT pension scheme. They have announced redundancy terms are being halved this year , no doubt in advance of further planned compulsory redundancies.
    You mention the will to strike , in a recent consultative ballot there was a 97.9 yes vote , that tells you all you need to know about how insecure members are currently feeling.

    1. Scott says:

      The compulsory redundancy element is significant in BT as generally redeployment has been possible around the business.

      The reduction in buildings down to 30 is a significant factor – It’s a bitter pill to swallow for many who are doing a good job but may find themselves redundant because they can’t relocate.

      The unions (whether CWU or Prospect) need to walk a fine line and carefully consider how to deliver a joined up approach to negotiations. At the top level the execs will arguable the company isn’t doing anything different to other Telcos and that employees have benefitted for decades from the no redundancy approach.

    2. OR Engineer says:

      I think it would be naïve to take that 97% result as a vote of support given the vote was not run with any level of integrity.

      CWU were calling people and advising they could see they hadn’t voted and could they encourage them to vote yes, they were also calling people and asking why they had voted as they did.

      Whilst the vote was open this information was readily available to CWU reps to call people based on what they voted on a daily basis. I know people who felt railroaded as if they voted otherwise their colleagues would know.

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      This isn’t another “accept the changes to your terms and conditions or leave scenario” is it with the obligatory box ticking “pretend consultation”?

  4. Alex says:

    BT has been held back for decades by all this, now it’s doing what many companies did in the 80s and 90s – and what customers and shareholders have been crying out for. Modernising.

    To think anyone working for BT in the future won’t be get decent pay, terms and conditions is laughable. They still have to compete.

    1. Na says:

      Held back by what and who?

      They have cut tens of thousands of jobs over the decades, gone international, become digital then fibre… all within union agreements (actually making business decisions is up to the business, the union has supported vast change many times and seek only to protect jobs and the public service).

      Granted, there were issues over fraud abroad, huge tv deal fees, failure to invest quick enough or missteps in international ventures and sale and repurchase of mobile arms. Funnily enough employees didn’t get much of a say in any of that.

      How many times are we going to cut terms, increase hours, close sites, stop pensions, downgrade bonus, two tier contracts and shed jobs?

      If it was a simple solution – to attack workers = profit, then the share price would be higher already because employees terms have been constantly eroded since the 80s.

      There is a severe lack of humanity and absolutely zero integrity in all of this by BT senior managers and their defence squad.

    2. Scott says:

      The T&Cs have significantly changed – some people will say they are good and compare to other companies (they were designed to be comparable).

      The problem is where you have a workforce who end up on new terms and find sick pay and holiday allowance (as a starting point) is cut. In some roles benefits have been removed (eg. Healthcare/Company car) – again comparable to other companies.

      The problem is the T&Cs will look good to many but feel like a kick in the teeth for those who have shown loyalty

    3. Buggerlugz says:

      Modernizing, requires a workforce to modernize. If only BT realised this instead of pandering to its shareholders.

    4. SG2013 says:

      BT was seriously looking at full fibre back in 1988 but shelved it due to cost and a lack of belief in their own vision – can you imagine how that would have changed the technology landscape if they had gone ahead with this??

  5. aformeremployee says:

    The issue is and has been for a number of years. Too many chiefs, not enough indians. Fraud in planning, back handers to contractors to which i have evidence and MR ADAM SCOTT will know, they will get caught. Openreach needs a full re-org to which some managers will need to go and people getting friends cushy numbers and cliques.

    1. Anti-moaner says:

      Says the clearly disgruntled ex employee.

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      And what is wrong with that exactly?

    3. The B says:

      Adam Scott now working at DVLA with another senior role

    4. Still here says:

      If you have any evidence of fraud at B T or openreach then put it up on I s p review, you mentioned a Mr Adam Scott, and how he would know about getting caught, what info do you have on Mr Adam Scott?

  6. Glenn Morris says:

    Held back? By who? The workforce has carried on regardless throughout COVID , they demand respect as they have respected their role in keeping the country connected!
    But when shown contempt and a violation in long standing agreements that have been beneficial to both parties and with no consistent negotiations taking place , you feel threatened for your long term prospects!

    Count me in !! Enough is enough!!

    1. Get a life says:

      Count me out
      Changes have to come openreach is a bloated company
      It’s not a job for life fibre is coming and the company will half the workforce in the future
      Bt exists to make money not for the workforce

  7. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

    Going on strike will damage the workforce and the company. Because GPON reduces the need for exchanges, it makes sense that BT would want to reduce the number to as few as possible. The 30-year sale and leaseback agreement with Telereal Trillium, is due to end around 2031, so again it makes perfect sense for BT to start restructuring now. In my opinion, the CWU should help BT restructure, but also accept that big changes are coming. If BT need to slim down, by closing buildings and relocating staff, then the CWU should be negotiating relocation and redundancy packages, not dictating strategy. I read somewhere that BT were looking at rationalising the redundancy terms, up to a years pay dependent on years served. A redundancy package of up to a years pay is now standard for Blue Chips, and seems fair to me.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      It still doesn’t make it right when they already agreed a new contract last year.

    2. A_Builder says:


      That is the bit I do agree with the union about: if BT had wanted to change the redundancy pay period it should have done it when it was traded off for pensions.

      Most of the rest, I am afraid, is inevitable.

      I think the BT ship with start to realise just how good Jan was keeping things steady and sniffing out how fast they could move.

      The diversifying, again on ventures the board does’t understand, is a well worn BT path to disaster, starting with CONCERT in 1994, when BT should be focussing on OR and it international connectivity businesses and not spending precious funds buying bolt-ons.

  8. Mike says:

    Unions are just welfare programs backed by the state to reduce unemployment and keep people from bothering them instead, they hamper any company where allowed to grow and usually result in its downfall.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      That’s a subjective and highly short-sighted insight Mike. If we had decent employment laws in this country to protect employees from unscrupulous employers we wouldn’t need unions.

    2. Mike says:

      The state has no business in regards to what two parties agree, if you don’t like the job, go elsewhere.

    3. New_Londoner says:

      That’s pretty naive, especially if there is a significant power imbalance between the two parties. The state definitely has a role in equalising the playing field, otherwise we’d still have workhouses, cartels, no access to healthcare or pensions for the majority of people etc.

    4. Mike says:

      The state creates such imbalances in the first place.

    5. Buggerlugz says:

      What planet do you live on Mike? Unions are a necessity to protect the boots on the ground from the “reward failure culture” of the shareholder.

  9. 10 years at BT says:

    The union is just trying to protect the deadwood that is unwilling to change and adapt to the modern world. Even post all the changes the conditions will still be some of the best in the industry.

    1. Fastman says:

      10 years interesting view of the world – so your absolutely happy of you were T&C were dp same job , no salary increase more responsbility and signficantly less annual leave per annum then — no i thought not

    2. Fastman says:

      10 respectively you speaking out of your rear – wonder how many years ago you had your 10 years (assume a section B at 60 then ?

  10. PAT says:

    Non BT Employee here coming in peace…

    Part of the problem here is perception. If you canvass opinion you’d be surprised at the volume of people, myself included, that still view BT as a bloated, non-sustainable out of date organisation with an ageing workforce who hanker after the days of a job for life, Final salary Pensions, Overly inflated golden handshakes and a cosy BT community. That is not how the real world, the corporate world works.

    That view is further compounded when people see the CWU video above containing views from, dare I say, equally out of touch individuals who also hanker after the days mentioned above but who, frankly, struggle to put a coherent sentence together in support of their argument.

    I genuinely struggle with the seemingly held view that BT today should be like it was in decades prior… It is not sustainable guys – it just isn’t and frankly the video above encapsulates for many EVERYTHING that is wrong with unions.

    All the best in the future.

    1. NW London Person says:

      Pat, BT closed the final salary pension scheme some time ago.

      So, who’s out of touch?

    2. Fastman says:

      and actually the longer you wokred for the business the worse the pension is likely to have been yet another person who decided he make a statemen on something he know absolutely nothing about

  11. Its Scotlands oil! says:

    Hi all. Interesting debate! Rightly or wrongly you have to try and make a stand! Agreed we need to change with the times, agreed we need to move forward. However it would be very foolish to let BT management get all of their own way on this!
    After 43 1/2 year on the company from apprentice to analyst, I have never felt this way about BT as I do now. Yes your right it wont affect me as I am offski next year, but I still feel passionately about how this management is going to treat and affect the next generation of Telecom workers.

    1. Porkie pies says:

      Like wise, I was in the company 21 years. Loved my job but over the past year it has been nothing but doom & gloom. I was management in technology, all I got shoved down my throat was the business has to change to be more competitive but they are creating wonderful shiny new buildings in the cities. Sod rural locations with the expectation people will travel miles, the work wasn’t declining. I was forced to interview people for their roles for some not to be successful meaning redundancies…..oh when I say redundancies I mean or the business liked to call it voluntary….looks good on their stats and comms that folk volunteered and it wasn’t compulsory. How do you manage people’s moral knowing their future wasn’t going to be one. Heartless and no balls. Senior management were bullies if you didn’t toe the line and think like they did then you were made to feel it. So I’m one that took that redundancy coz I hated the way it was going and how they treated people. I haven’t got anytime time of the company and haven’t missed the bullshit, the bullying and different standards they make up to suit the temperature. Oh plus the seniors have absolutely no respect for the union, often after many a joint meeting with the CWU seniors named Ed & Dave would scoff and be very insulting about their demands. When you have folk running the show like that then expect back stabbing lying barstewards not to be trusted.

  12. openreach c3 says:

    After being shafted by the Union in 1987 by losing a months pay for a one month strike, and them caving in, I’ll not be striking again.
    Remember as we lose pay, the union employees still get paid.
    And that was in the days when there was no competition to take our jobs and no contractors to do our work.
    Fast forward 35 years and BT will run with our one day strikes (unlikely to be a month long one again) by using contractors.
    The union will score a massive own goal by taking industrial action as BT will realise we’re not needed as much as we think we are.
    The Union should be working with management rather than looking for a scrap.

    1. Maybeyournotneeded says:

      Spoken like a true C3.

    2. Kevin Warren says:

      Jeez, how do you get out of bed in the morning.

    3. The truth says:

      Hopefully they come for your terms and conditions next like they have the repayment planners. You absolute moron

  13. Steve depeare says:

    We need to protect what we have, and not give away things that protect us, we gave away our subsistence for a few quid let’s not give away anything else. I used to be proud to work for BT now I’m afraid that our jobs might go. The union I don’t feel have been the best but let’s hope now they can protect what we have, so let’s back them and let them back us.

  14. Disgruntled ex employee says:

    Problem is they have 20k plus backend contractors working in India taking the UK work because they pay peanuts and more will go there

  15. Fevzi Hussein says:

    Seems to be a few management stooges on here. The consultative ballot does not lie and the CWU has an incredible record of delivering for its members when it needs to. I predict the share price will come crashing down for BT – major senior managers will get the boot and some form of sense will resume in terms of industrial relations.

    BT actions are utterly disgusting and metaphorically speaking they deserve a fat lip.

  16. Front line says:

    Spot on.

    1. Get a life says:

      Cwu needs to wake up and relies that once the fibre is complete there will be big job losses and it’s about time they told there members that fact it’s no longer a job for life
      I do agree that they should get the best terms for people having to leave

    2. Fastman says:

      the fibre is a never ending move, all that happens is the dial moves and round you go again

  17. MrPositive says:

    Count me OUT!
    BT needs to operate more efficiently to survive, thrive and be competitive in the future. Reducing the amount of buildings, which by the way are super expensive to run and maintain, makes perfect sense. If there’s opportunities to redeploy, then great, if not I’m sorry but that’s life out there in the real world. Simple business operations.
    Understood, a lot of people don’t like change, but if important business decisions and changes don’t happen, BT gets left behind in the dust. Need to adapt and embrace!
    For me I see it as a great job with generous compensation, terms and holidays.
    (P.S. we haven’t lost a single days’ pay over the pandemic and also offered a £1500 bonus to say thank you….. not all bad eh?)

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