BT workers vote on strike that could disrupt internet services for remote workers

Openreach van - Joe Giddens/PA
Openreach van - Joe Giddens/PA

People working from home are facing "clear disruption" to internet services as thousands of BT workers vote this week to go on strike.

As many as 45,000 engineers and call centre staff will decide whether to begin industrial action in as little as two weeks’ time. This makes up the vast majority of the company’s 58,000-strong frontline workforce.

Insiders said there would be “clear disruption” to services, with some engineers unable to install phone lines or repair faulty services. Customers may also struggle to reach support staff on the phone.

Widespread rail strikes caused a near total shutdown of the transport network last week but greater levels of remote working since the pandemic have protected parts of the workforce from the disruption. However, a strike in the telecoms sector could change that.

BT said it had begun contingency planning and that it was confident of coping even with the majority of its frontline workers off.

Protracted dispute

It follows a protracted dispute with the Communication Workers Union over pay. The CWU accused management of attempting to impose “an incredibly low flat-rate pay rise” at a time when inflation is soaring.

If workers choose to take action, it will be the first national strike in 35 years and the CWU said it would cause “tremendous disruption”.

BT offered a £1,500 pay rise to its frontline workers, which represents between three and eight per cent. The group said: “We awarded the highest pay rise we could for team members and frontline colleagues across BT Group. It’s our highest salary increase in more than 20 years.

"So it’s disappointing that the CWU has decided to ballot for industrial action without consulting its members on the outcome of our negotiations. If a strike takes place, nobody wins.”

Dave Ward, the CWU general secretary, accused BT of making large profits and dividend payments without fairly compensating workers.

“What’s making workers more angry is that the CEO of BT, his pay has gone up by 32 per cent in the last year,” he told Sky News on Sunday.

Postal workers

The CWU is also balloting more than 100,000 postal workers on Tuesday in a similar dispute over pay. "At Royal Mail, the CEO has just received a bonus of £140,000," Mr Ward said.

The union rejected Royal Mail’s pay offer of two per cent and said the company had “conducted themselves insultingly and disrespectfully to key workers.

“Their conduct, and particularly the imposition of such an aggressive pay offer, has eroded trust among loyal employees."

Andy Kerr, the CWU deputy general secretary, said:“As ballots begin dropping through the doors of CWU members, thousands will be thinking of the soaring cost of living and the insulting treatment they’ve received at the hands of employers."