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BT Staff Vote to Strike Over Pay as Openreach Prep Contingency Plan

Thursday, June 30th, 2022 (4:17 pm) - Score 7,416
protest concept with megaphone

The Communications Workers Union (CWU), which represents c. 40,000 staff at the UK telecoms and broadband ISP giant BT (inc. Openreach), has today – following a dispute over pay – voted to hit the operator with its first national strike in 35 years. Delays to service provision are expected, unless a last minute deal can be done.

The BT Group settled their last dispute with the CWU during July 2021 (here), which itself nearly resulted in a major national strike. But part of that agreement saw the operator commit to implement a pay increase for team members (and management teams) in the UK, which was due to be awarded this year and would “depend on various factors including business performance, economic outlook and inflation.”

A couple of months ago the operator said (here) they planned to award workers a £1,500 consolidated pay increase to their annual salaries (up from an original offer of £1,200). This would, BT said, be the “largest [pay rise] … in over 20-years” for 58,000 of their UK frontline and Team Member colleagues – representing an increase of up to 8% for some colleagues and more than 3% for even the highest paid frontline workers.

However, the Deputy General Secretary (Telecoms and Financial Services) of the CWU, Andy Kerr, who had previously called for a pay rise of 10% to recognise the “contribution our members have made to the business“, promptly rejected BT’s offer. Kerr warned that, given the surging level of inflation, the offer would have effectively represented a “relative pay cut“.

Admittedly, it probably didn’t help that BT’s CEO, Philip Jansen, opted to take a 32% increase in his overall remuneration package this year. The bad news for BT and Openreach, as well as their customers, today is that the operator’s staff have voted in favour of industrial action. The CWU actually tabled three strike ballots for BT, Openreach and EE, but the latter did not succeed.

CWU Strike Ballot – Results

1st Ballot for Openreach
28k+ were entitled to vote – turnout 74.8% and 95.8% voted to strike

2nd Ballot for BT
10k+ were entitled to vote – turnout 58.2% and 91.5% voted to strike

3rd Ballot EE
2k were entitled to vote – but the vote fell short of the government’s threshold by just 8 votes
(95.5% of those who did vote were in favour)

The move threatens to disrupt various areas of BT Group’s business, spanning from customer support to Openreach’s broadband and Ethernet engineers etc. But by the looks of it, such action will not extend to those directly employed by EE.

A BT Group spokesperson said:

“BT Group awarded its highest pay rise for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average 5% increase and up to 8% for those on the lowest salaries. At the same time, we’re in the middle of a once-in-a-generation investment programme to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks.

These investments are vital for the benefit of our millions of customers and for the UK economy. Above all, they are central to the success of this business – and its colleagues – now and in the future.

Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group’s stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment. The result of the CWU’s ballot is a disappointment but we will work to keep our customers and the country connected.”

Dave Ward, CWU General Secretary, said:

“For the first time in nearly four decades, we are faced with national level strike action across BT Group. Our membership faced the challenges of home working, high staff turnover, and a real culture of fear created by senior management to deliver an overwhelming show of support for strike action.

I want to pay specific tribute to our call centre workers in BT, who have delivered a historic move by voting for the first – and biggest – national call centre workers strike in British history. These workers kept this country connected during the pandemic. Without CWU members working across BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution.

This work, which was done under great difficulty and often came with tremendous personal sacrifice, delivered £1.3 billion profits for the company. Over £700 million was paid out to shareholders. The company’s CEO, Philip Jansen, handed himself a £3.5 million pay package – a 32% increase. Over £700 million was paid out to shareholders, and the Chief Financial Officer was handed £2.2 million – a 25% increase.

The reward for our members? The imposition of a below-inflation increase – the very same workers who delivered profits that more like lottery numbers than actual wages.”

Contingency Measures

A major strike like this, if it does indeed proceed, may have a similar impact to that of the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Openreach, for example, informs us that they have dedicated business continuity and resilience teams so that, in the event of large-scale colleague absences and other crises beyond their control, they are able to keep disruption to a minimum. But there are limits to this.

Put another way, your broadband, leased line and phone services will continue to function as such networks don’t require constant manual input, but there may inevitably be some delays, such as to new service provisions. During the pandemic, Openreach implemented a “change freeze” (these also occur over holidays, like Christmas), which means that any non-essential planned engineering is postponed. We expect them to do that again.

An Openreach spokesperson said:

“If industrial action takes place, nobody wins. We’ll continue to focus on keeping our network running, safely and effectively, as we do every day. We have tried and tested processes to help us manage impacts of reductions in available workforce, as we proved during the pandemic.

We’ll do everything we can to minimise any disruption and keep our customers connected.”

The strike, as you might expect, will also impact some of Openreach’s rivals, not least by disrupting aspects of their Physical Infrastructure Access (PIA) services, as well as the provision of FTTP and Ethernet access products etc. Such delays can be very costly, although the network operator may not provide compensation for this as it would be deemed a matter “beyond our control” (there’s usually a catch in contracts about such things).

At this stage, the CWU has not yet formally served notice to strike and has instead invited BT’s senior management back to the table next week for one final attempt at an agreement (11th hour deals do happen). But if no deal can be reached then they will proceed to industrial action (the details of when, where and for how long are not yet known). On the other hand, BT may well feel as if they’ve gone far enough.

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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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44 Responses
  1. John says:

    The downfall of the monopoly continues

  2. wireless pacman says:

    Presumably we can expect the BT/Openreach network to get a lot more reliable for a while then? 🙂

    1. Jonny says:

      Why would it get more reliable when the trained staff are not available to carry out maintenance tasks?

    2. The witcher says:

      Won’t have openreach staff to fix the contractors work for a few days extra.

    3. MrTruth says:

      @wireless pacman

      Yes its well proven that less fingers in cabinets equals less faults

  3. AT says:

    @wireless pacman … thats Jonnys point. No one messing with it.

  4. jet14 says:

    It baffles me why the CEO’s idiots get millions for just a bit of management whereas the hard slog is done by the rest on pittance pay, shame on ceo and managers and financial idiot in charge!!!
    All hands up for BT workers!!! and not management.

    1. The witcher says:

      The CEO doesn’t even try to justify his enormous salary increase, probably because he knows he cannot.
      It’s not like the board force him to take it. His attempts to appease the staff have only damaged relations further.

    2. Mike says:

      It’s called responsibility, the higher you go up in the command chain the more you have and hence the higher compensation you get as you have to make riskier decisions.

  5. Disgrunted EE worker says:

    As an EE worker very dissapointed that we missed it by 8 votes. We are the lowest paid of the 3 groups balloted. Last year those of us that worked through the pandemic were all paid a one off £1000 and £500 in BT shares so this years “increase” just matches what we got last year at a time when inflation is soaring out of control. Lets hope they come back with a decent offer.

    1. Sympathetic Openreach Worker says:

      I can see why that’s extremely frustrating.

      Hopefully, though, this will wake EE colleagues up to why it’s important to take part in this process.

      However, the damage is done, and cannot be reversed.

      Unfortunately, if BT decide to offer you no additional payrise- but offers the rest of the company one, it’s unlikely The Union will be able to do much about it.

    2. disgruntled EE worker but positive about results says:

      as another ee worker the cwu have a responsibility to advocate for EE too in any negotiation even if we cant strike we still had a yes vote of 95% even if those 8 votes had been made as no’s would still of been a high yes vote and lets be honest while ee wont strike this time if down the road another ballot is called for i have a suspicion we will get a good result… and i think while 2 of the 3 shots across the ceo’s bow hit home… i think even he will be worried at how close the 3rd was to hitting

    3. Chapmyster says:

      I’m openrrsch and we got exactly the same 1k and 500 shares

    4. Paul says:

      The 1000 was only worth about 700 after tax etc to most of us,and the shares were the ones promised the year before if we met targets.
      No shares given this year

  6. MrTruth says:

    This is a joke, every idiot now wants a double digit pay rise. Another nail in the coffin of the Openreach employee as BT group can get the work done cheaper using contactors and agency staff and this will just accelerate that process. All aboard the SkylArk.

    1. louisp52 says:

      There are many roles that Openreach play, and a lot of them could not easily be replaced by contractors. Openreach also spend a lot of time cleaning up after their contractors. An inflation matching pay rise is only fair.

    2. Axl says:

      Why shouldn’t we have a double digit pay rise when the ceo has had a 32% increase for doing a crap job? We haven’t had a pay rise for three years but worked through the pandemic creating billions of pounds in profit. Also, have you any idea how bad the work of contractors is? They don’t have the pride in their work OR staff have. You’ve no idea the costs that BT in their infinite wisdom incurr by allowing contractors to run riot. Some of it has to be seen to be believed. Only an idiot would question a fair cost of living pay rise.

    3. MrTruth says:

      @louisp52

      Don’t be fool by the lefties at the CWU, this is not the time to be striking.

      You may get a double digit pay rise this time but at the cost of your job a year or two down the line. BT group jobs are considered to be like council worker jobs a cushy number and you’re throwing it way for one big pay day.

    4. MrTruth says:

      @Axl

      You keep saying I have no idea but I do, I think this is a huge miscalculation to vote for a strike at this moment in time. To make this strike work you’re going to need to walk out for weeks/months not a day here and there like the railway works do.

    5. louisp52 says:

      @MrTruth

      A ballot to strike does not guarantee a strike yet, it is a bargaining tool with the option to strike. The high ups at BT Group are being invited back to the table to negotiate more first. If that doesn’t work then there will be strikes.

      Why would the strikes last months? BT is going to rack up a huge loss of profit, and a huge backlog of work, if there is a strike for more than one or two days. Which will then force more negotiations. There is no way BT will allow a month long strike. With a network the size of BT’s there are thousands of errors a day, that will build up quickly if the staff are not there to fix them, it will not take long for BT to submit.

    6. MrTruth says:

      @louisp52

      To have an impact it will take weeks/months of walkouts, as I said in another post BT are not like the railways where everything stops when they go on strike, Existing BT customers phones will still work so will their broadband and private circuits so it will take time for faults to start to build up and we all know that less problems occur when nobody is out touching the BT network its just a fact. Most of the full fibre rollout is already done by contractors thats also a fact. You going on strike may actually save BT some money.

    7. louisp52 says:

      @MrTruth

      You’re right about most things in the network continuing to work, but have missed the mark when it comes to the repercussions that this will have. There are still hundreds of faults a day that occur, and not fixing them as soon as they occur is costly. Companies have SLAs with BT that can cost lots of money if not fixed quickly – Not solely through breach of agreement, but also possible loss of contracts if the company is not happy. I’d also like to see where you got the idea that having fewer people touching the network somehow magically causes less faults. Faults are in the very nature of a national scale network, having no one out to actively work on faults is going to cause more issues in the long run.

      Contractors do do lots of the civils work in building the physical side of the network, but that is pretty much their only role. The Planning of the network, the Repair of the network, and Security of the network are almost solely handled by BT/Openreach. There are no contractors capable of doing those things, and not having them done puts BT’s network in a vulnerable position. You’re also not taking into account the amount of staff that BT have that do not work on the network directly. Staff in shops, call centres, finance, vehicle repair, testing, and logistics will all be striking. Even if there are contractors that can do the civils work, they won’t be able to without the other people in the aforementioned roles helping them.

    8. MrTruth says:

      @louisp52

      The fact that you don’t know that the vast majority of the fibre first rollout across the UK is done by contractors and sub contractor including pulling the cables, installing CBTs, installing splitters/track nodes and the splicing of it back to the agg node means I am wasting my time discussing this with you any further. All the best finding a new job in a year or so.

    9. Rebuttal says:

      If other idiots don’t want it they can keep their mouth shut. Dont try to advertise your company here by calling those idiots who are fighting for their rightful increments. Keep in mind every dog has its day and that doesn’t last forever, so be careful what you say.

  7. FTTP provision Advisor. says:

    Sorry Mr Truth you are wrong. I work in fibre provision and have done for 7 years, contractors do civils work only. They do ducting, installing of poles and soft and hard digs. All networking is carried out by Openreach Engineers. It only takes one major fault for the UK network to fall to it’s knees and if there is no trained engineers to deal with it then that will be BT’s fault. All we are asking for is a realistic pay rise. We didn’t get one last year and the year before we only got 1.3%. We deserve more.

    1. MrTruth says:

      I really hope you go and check your facts as I am a Tier 2 contractor for Openreach (not a Tier 1) and was only yesterday pulling and splicing a 36F fibre cable for Openreach on a Fibre First rollout with 6 other contractors.

    2. A fibre engineer says:

      This is absolutely not true. I’ve witnessed first hand contractors doing more than just civil work.

    3. RogetheDodge says:

      @MrTruth

      So you’re one of the contractors that burn through the copper when rodding and roping. You’re one of the contractors that dump the copper joints in the bottom of the joint box and then stamp all over them, damaging joints and breaking pressurised cables. You’re one of the contractors that removes copper cables to pull in fibre when you can’t get a rope through the duct.

      That’s good to know.

    4. MrTruth says:

      @RogetheDodge

      In a funny way you ridiculous comments have provided evidence to support my point about contractors and sub contractors doing the majority of the fibre first rollout work. Just shows how the continued denial of several BT group employees are so out of touch.

      Thanks for that 🙂

  8. Uncleknobby says:

    @RogetheDodge
    Yes true story that. @MrTruth sounds upset with the result of the ballot, maybe worried about his own future when as he says “All the best finding a new job in a year or so”

    1. MrTruth says:

      Why would contractors doing the majority of the UK Openreach full fibre rollout be worried about their jobs? by the time this rollout is finished I would be more worried if I was only trained on copper.

      This is not the time for BT group employees to be striking over a double digit pay rises, the CWU are to blame for this mess and its interesting they are picking now for a strike when they should have done it 15 years ago.

    2. T says:

      They’re threatening industrial action over a single digit pay rise, not a double digit one? A large proportion have been given a 4-5% pay rise, with inflation at double that, the chiefs pay rise at a cushy 32%, and the marginal/0% increases of the previous 2 years it’s not surprising that they are feeling disgruntled

    3. MrTruth says:

      @T

      The balloting for strike action by the CWU is for the benefit of the Labour party its politically motivated just like whats happening on the railways and elsewhere.

  9. RogetheDodge says:

    @MrTruth

    I’d say majority is pushing it but contractors do a lot. However the poor attitude to health and safety and the damage and poor workmanship on display by contractors, whether it’s the full fibre network, uplifting PCPs, installing new fibre tie pairs or general installs is pretty apalling but it keeps us in work so I can’t complain.

  10. The cleaner says:

    This may be a little of topic, but what about the cleaners that kept those BT staff in the buildings working.
    No specialist contractors went in to complete COVID cleans when there was confirmed cases, it was down to the team on site, none of the emergency call centres would have been able to operate. BT would have lost a lot of money if there was no form of cleaning onsite.

    Now imagine being a cleaner and seeing everyone around you get £1500 worth of bonuses and all you got was a pat on the and back well done.
    Now facing the prospect of a minimal pay rise but better yet, either reduce your hours by half or more, other wise take redundancy, that is the prospect the cleaners working at BT are facing, there is no sense of pride with BT anymore, working for BT is no longer a job for life, cleaners had pride in their work, proud of the building they work in, go above and beyond to help the customers each and every day,yet again this has been taken for granted, thrown back in our faces.

    CWU must stop this madness.

  11. Contractor says:

    Whats with all this contractor bashing on here? I would love to see you Openreach guys experience a year of contracting, being paid less than £25 for a mornings work doing full whack provides, new dropwire, lead in, socket, dealing with faulty D and E sides after you have nicked a pair UG feeding a spare on the DP without updating or even caring where that between joints pairs’s DP and term was. 10 Spares on CSS, all DIS UG yet showing as preconnected, then having to deal with the faulty e side and a PCP that hasnt been built correctly.

    Yes you may have to fix our mess ups, but you get paid per hour, and have a good package on top of that. We get a pittance, and then you using the candid app on us all the time to get our money for the job took off us for clearing the fault in the PCP on closure, when you actually cleared it in a rotten Joint UG!

    Oh, and then clear off at 16:10 when we are still working til 7 while your having dinner with family!

    1. FibreBubble says:

      Sounds like good reasons to join a union and enjoy the improved pay and conditions that comes with union recognition.

  12. Matt says:

    Sad to see worker against worker in here. Everyone should be supporting each other to get a much better deal rather than this race to the bottom that someone else is always worse off.

  13. Jonjacksprat says:

    Dont miss the point either.
    The fact that contract companies can take the self employed installers price work off them when it is sometimes not the fault of the contractor…is nothing short of THEFT.
    Contractors should be paid more aswell, why are we always crying foul for the “butt in the butter” types of hard done by fully employed, who often have it cozy as muck as “Contractor” has said.
    Everyone in the country who works hard deserves a pay rise.
    Increased fuel tax is a tax too far.

    Upper tier management can relax safe in the knowledge their mega bonuses are all but guaranteed.

    Self employed workers have had their money pilfered by employers since the beginning of time, the self employed are seen a s a smell under the noses of the management, yet they DO do all the work.
    Most companies would not even exist if it wasnt for skimming off the backs of contractors and the self employed.

    The DWP is conducting a war against the self employed as if the self employed were the ones that lost all the lost DWP money amid all the hand outs (to cronies) during the Covid big loan hand out scheme.

  14. NotAClue says:

    I have to say it saddens me to read such horrendous and shortsighted comments here.

    Over the last 5 years, BT has systematically eroded employee terms and conditions (at all levels), whilst making buckets through offsetting slowed revenue growth by massive cost-cutting.

    Examples of this have been removing a layer of senior management (via people framework), which was launched in the guise of “we’re realigning to the market, and making our management pay structure more entrepreneurial – this turned out to utter lies, as experienced management left, inexperienced managers were promoted without any financial compensation or pay-rise all whilst spineless Prospect stood by and did nothing.

    In parallel during this time, the CWU has been the only one with bollocks to stand up for their members. This strike ballot is totally justified on for basis of a true cost of living rise asked by is let’s members is affordable.

    Lastly, to bring sub-contractors into this, is pathetic. Sub-contractors over the years, have not only helped contribute Tod the very profitability which makes this rise affordable, but also have been a necessary flex point for resourcing which you can’t get with PAYE. Ask yourselves this, what’s going to happen to all the PAYE jobs post December 2026, once 25m home me have been built?

  15. Roddy Mcfee says:

    It’s not just a knee jerk reaction with the payrise this year, over the last 3 years the pay rises have been atrocious.

  16. Rich says:

    BT increased prices by what, 11% a few months back? So they should definitely be able to offer an 11% payrise.

  17. LoveFTTH says:

    I work in one of the BT provision call centres (Early Life in the BT jargon) and one of the reasons why BT can’t afford the pay increase staff deserve is because it massively overpays it’s tenured staff compared to the competitive market rate and new hires. There are people earning 40k working in front line customer service roles as they were allowed to parachute into an easier tole and keep their existing salary. Even a normal B2 advisor on FT will be earning 32k+ which is more than new managers get (£28,300 after the pay increase). I have seen examples of advisors working their way through the ranks, becoming managers, and their whole team of tenured advisors earn more than them.

    CWU members won’t like it but something needs to be done about that. It is grossly unfair you have new advisors in EE and BT earning 20k alongside people earning over 30k doing exactly the same job. There is no way for new staff to get to this sort of salary level.

    BT Consumer is the most profitable part of BT and it’s totally fair staff get a wage rise of 10% to at least match inflation. BT Global is an absolute waste of space whilst EE and Openreach add a lot to the portfolio. I do feel sorry for EE staff as they earn the least.

    At the moment it is funny to watch PJ get destroyed every time he does an internal media event. The workplace comments are a free-for-all. Normal staff restraint has gone, the knives are well and truly out and nobody is holding back.

    Time for BT to make a sensible offer and avoid a summer of disruption!

    1. NotAClue says:

      Those employees have earned that pay progression. Furthermore you’ll find that Openreach is most profitable LoB, hence why Group has been desperate not to allow it to be sold off.

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