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ISPs See Minimal Impact from BT and Openreach Workers Strike

Friday, August 5th, 2022 (9:21 am) - Score 4,872
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The recent two-day national strike by up to 38,000 of BT and Openreach’s unionised workers (here) – due to a dispute over pay – does not appear to have caused any significant problems for either the operator or its customers. At least that is the feedback we’ve had from UK broadband ISPs and alternative networks.

At the time of writing, neither Openreach nor the Communications Workers Union (CWU) could provide an official estimate of how many BT and Openreach workers actually did strike. But a union source told ISPreview.co.uk of how they’d estimated that less than 2% of the unionised workforce, including management, went into work on Friday (29th Jul) and Monday (1st Aug).

Prior to the strike, both BT and Openreach had been adamant that they had the necessary processes in place for tackling large-scale colleague absences, which they said would “minimise any disruption for our customers” and “keep the country connected“. In terms of Openreach, we expected that the biggest impact would be felt in terms of some delays to new service provisions (installations).

Naturally, we were keen to know how much all of this translated to ISPs and alternative network (AltNet) operators, both of which depend upon Openreach’s ability to deliver certain connectivity and infrastructure access solutions (e.g. PIA). Suffice to say, we’ve spent the past few days quietly asking for some off-the-record feedback, but first, the official line.

An Openreach spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We kept the network running safely and effectively, as we do every day, and there were no national incidents or outages. We’re continuing to assess the impact but our focus is firmly on serving customers and getting back to business as usual.”

Openreach’s statement was echoed by all the retail broadband ISPs we engaged, which agreed that the impact had been “minimal” and there were no major or prolonged issues as a result. As for AltNets, they reported some delays to service provision and even fault investigations (adding between a few days and up to a week to some appointments), but nothing unexpected or unmanageable.

At this point we should highlight that it was not the goal of the CWU to cause maximum damage to a major national provider of critical telecoms services, but rather to draw attention to their pay dispute and encourage BT back to the negotiating table. The catch is that BT does not appear to have blinked and has offered no indication of any greater willingness to shift their position, at least not publicly.

However, unresolved pay disputes have a tendency to be followed by more strikes, which could conceivably be longer and thus more disruptive in the future. Delays to provisions of up to a week can be managed, but such issues would become more of a costly concern if key jobs start being hit by much longer delays (e.g. a month or longer).

At such a point, both ISPs and AltNets may find it increasingly difficult to tolerate Openreach’s decision, however understandable it may be, to declare such events as a Matter Beyond Our Reasonable Control (MBORC) and thus not subject to compensation payments.

Finally, we asked the CWU what their next steps might be and whether more strikes were likely, although at present they don’t seem to be making such a commitment: “In terms of the union’s next step, we are in the same position as we were before the strike – we are still calling on Jansen [BT’s CEO] to commit to meaningful negotiations for a decent, dignified pay deal,” said a spokesperson for the union.

We should add that a number of MPs from different parties, such as the SNP’s Steven Bonnar (here) and Labour’s Stephan Morgan (here), have since written to BT and the UK Government in order to express solidarity with the operator’s workers and to encourage a fair resolution to the pay dispute.

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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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12 Responses
  1. Ex Telecom Engineer says:

    No surprise here. Telecom Networks operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, without intervention. It’s well known that reductions in Engineering activity lead to a reduction in Network Faults. A couple of days of strike action isn’t going to significantly impact the Network, but it’s debatable whether a prolonged period of loss of earnings wont hurt the lower paid employees; Also the lower paid employee’s have less to gain from strike action, since they’ve received a higher percentage rise from the across the board £1500 pay increase.
    As far as provisioning is concerned, it’ll no doubt have an impact, but nothing that will affect BT long term.
    As BOE Governor Andrew Bailey implied, across the board high pay rises will provoke more inflation, possibly leading to a wage-price inflationary spiral. Historically wages catch up with inflation over time, but inflation busting pay rises potentially damage pensioners, who’s pension increases are capped at a predetermined level, as well as low skilled workers who have no wage bargaining power. Inflation should be measured over a number of years, not one, with inflationary spikes smoothed out over time; The same should apply to wage rises too, in my opinion. To be fair, employers should offer above inflation pay rises once inflation drops to 2%, or lower, to bring wages in line with, or above, long term inflation; That way you don’t damage pensioners, capped at 5% or lower.

    1. libertarian says:

      Inflation is due to increased money supply, inflation wage increases are a means to alleviate the impact of inflation. Govts around the world went nuts with the money printers and paid people to stay home as an Orwellian test to cause inflation on purpose, now we are reaping the outcome.

    2. An Engineer says:

      Most of the current inflation is supply-side. Not demand-side. I’m not sure why this is such a difficult concept for the QE-obsessed to grasp.

      There was a spike in demand as things opened up as people couldn’t spend beforehand but the idea inflation was intentional is bonkers. It serves no political or financial purpose.

      QE/furlough isn’t responsible for higher energy prices, higher grain prices or labour shortages reducing supply of some products. Inflation would be across the board if a bunch of money had been pumped into the economy that wouldn’t have normally been there and is now generating high demand for goods and services.

    3. NA says:

      TRY TELLING THAT THE THE CEO WHO TOOK A MASSIVE PAY RISE THIS YEAR

  2. Phil says:

    Inflation expecting to rise to 15% by next year 2023 say the media press yesterday the times co uk

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      The Bank of England said yesterday that they expected to get close to their original 2% target in about two years time, with it starting to fall in 2023.

  3. angry man says:

    Oddly enough it’s a national Cisco router shortage that is stuffing me up right now. the connection is fine!

  4. One leg diss says:

    An 8,000 customer affecting cable theft in Sutton Valance was considered as “not a major incident” wait until management have finished begging CP’s for MBORC on any fibre fault that failed its SLG time and the true numbers come out of that

    1. no leg diss says:

      that cable theft replacement was being worked on by engineers during the strike who weren’t on strike. there was also a lot of people on leave and rostered days off, what a crap two days to strike impact was low as the reduced work stack due to recent weather and Openreach reducing the appointment books.

  5. Sam says:

    As a B2B CP we were affected quite badly as we had a lot of faults on both days and the Thursday before that that couldnt be attended to. However I very much am in support of the CWU and the actions they are taking.

    For us, we had issues from WLR / ISDN all the way through to Eth Faults.

  6. Jamie says:

    Openreach had MBORC across all areas of the UK for the strike action.

  7. anonymous says:

    On this occasion (and a change from usual), I fully support the BT workers and for the first time, London Underground/TFL staff (I don’t normally support the latter as they have gone on strike previously for petty reasons or unrealistic).

    What is going on is a race to the bottom where people’s agreed pensions and other rights are taken away whilst people at the top continue to cream off vast sums of salary and other financial benefits or “expenses”.

    Its about time this country had a say on politician’s salary and expenses and other perks – they are all for taking anything of benefit away from working people regardless of political party (final salary pensions made deliberately too expensive, private and state pensionable age, state pension inflation increases, free bus pass age minimum, increase in NI years of contributions, theft of WASPI women’s pensionable amount paid if born in 1953) but then award themselves handsomely by an “independent” committee.

    The great reset as its often referred to is happening. The state is enslaving people till death into work through high inflation, stagnant state pension, high council taxes (much higher than a lot of other countries where they still empty bins weekly!). Meanwhile their noses are firmly in the bottom of the trough!

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