BT and Openreach workers have vowed to “keep going” as 999 call handlers joined a fresh strike amid an ongoing pay dispute.
The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said around 40,000 of its members staged the walkout on Thursday, joined for the first time by the 999 call handlers, a move which is likely to cause disruption to emergency services.
Workers joined a picket line in pink high-vis jackets outside the BT Tower in Fitzrovia, central London, on Thursday morning, holding placards and putting up a banner which read: “We deserve a decent pay rise. Pay up BT!” and “Honk if you back us”.
The union said the strikes are in opposition to BT Group’s imposition of an “incredibly low” flat-rate pay rise of £1,500, which it described as a “dramatic real-terms pay cut” because of soaring inflation.
Thousands of Openreach engineers and BT call centre workers have already taken industrial action, and further strikes are planned for October 10, 20 and 24.
The CWU said that in previous strikes it was agreed that the 999 call handlers would be exempt, but it added that after widespread outrage at the company’s “refusal” to negotiate with union representatives, these workers will now be joining their company colleagues.
Speaking to the PA news agency from the BT Tower on Thursday morning, CWU general secretary Dave Ward said the workers will keep going until the company agrees to negotiate.
He said: “This must be the only dispute in the UK at the moment where the company is actually that arrogant at CEO and board level that they are refusing to even negotiate.”
Mr Ward went on to say that workers are “not going to walk away from this dispute”.
“We are going to keep going, we are going to review our tactics, we are going to continue to put more pressure on the company,” he said.
Mr Ward also called on the Government to encourage BT to come to the negotiating table.
“Workers are at a tipping point and it’s time that even the Government actually said to BT management you need to get into the room and negotiate a settlement to this dispute,” he said.
Darren Weller, assistant branch secretary, CWU Capital Branch, said workers do not want to be striking and are “finding it very difficult” as many face a fifth day of no pay.
“Everyone is struggling but we’re here today to support our lower-paid colleagues within the business that are having to go to food banks just to live,” he said.
Mr Weller added that workers are “not that fussed” about the pay offer but just want “a better deal” and want the company to negotiate.
He added: “I looked at my pay packet last month and I looked this month as well and you do notice the difference.
“We’re losing a whole day’s money and like I say this is my fifth day of losing money, along with my colleagues everyone’s lost five days’ money, and with the cost-of-living crisis at the moment no-one can afford that, but we’ve still got to do that because we need to get the board back and talking to our members.”
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.”