BT workers prepare for ballot

Submitted by martin on 11 April, 2021 - 9:26 Author: Ollie Moore
CWU graphic

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) says it is going “full steam ahead” towards an industrial action ballot in BT Group, which includes BT, Openreach, and EE.

BT bosses plan a restructure that could lead to compulsory redundancies, as well as worse terms and conditions for remaining workers. CWU says the restructure will mean:

Mass closure of many sites

A potential threat to voluntarism in leaving the business

A piecemeal approach to closure which lessens the chance of re-deployment

Undermining and ignoring your agreements that protect your pension and voluntary redundancy terms

Drastically reducing the pay, terms, and conditions for multiple roles and grades

14,000 people attended a recent online meeting called by the union to discuss the dispute. In a message to members, CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “BT were one of the big winners at the recent budget. The CWU estimates the new ‘super-deduction’ will save BT hundreds of millions of pounds over the next two years and could wipe out their corporate tax bill entirely. BT have not only survived but practically thrived throughout the pandemic and, as such, we’re expecting profits after tax for the 2020/21 financial year to come in at around £1.7 billion.”

BT recently paid its workers a £1,000 one-off “bonus”, in recognition of their work during the pandemic, a move the CWU described as a “bribe”.

In a message to members, the union said: “An unconsolidated £1,000 in cash is not a pay increase. It does not protect the value of your pay against inflation. It is an attempt by the company to try to buy you off with cash and to disrupt our Count Me In campaign. It sadly confirms the direction the company are taking.

“An unconsolidated pay rise means your pay will not go up with the cost of living. Next year you will be on the same pay, at a time when RPI inflation is currently 1.4% and is predicted to rise to 2.3% by the autumn. This will affect applications for mortgages and rents and your future pension as it will be non-pensionable.

“Undoubtedly, BT have made this move because of your support for the CWU. What is vital now is that we re-double our efforts to win the Industrial Action Ballot and deliver an agreement on job security. We know you will not be bought off and unlike BT, we will not put a price on your job. They are trying to divide the workforce, and ignoring the voice of members, so that they can plough on with their job cuts and a race to the bottom on pay, terms and conditions. We can’t allow this to happen.”

The union has given the BT campaign a distinct identity (“Count Me In”), and has produced campaign resources for members to use. The union's well-attended online briefings are important preparation, but they need to be followed through with action. Despite having announced plans for a ballot, despite the general campaigning activity, and despite workers having voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in a consultative ballot in late 2020, the CWU has still not actually launched a ballot or announced a timetable for one. It should do so.

The union is also fundraising for the strike fund for Openreach Repayment Protection Engineers, who have struck for 10 days, most recently on 29-31 March, against planned regrading that could lead to pay cuts.

Donations can be made by bank transfer to the CWU General Fund (CWU General Fund. A/C No. 33019822. Sort Code 60-83-01) quoting reference RPE Strike.

Comments

Submitted by David Warren (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 14:48

Thanks to Ollie for the update on this important dispute. Sadly I am not surprised to hear that the CWU T&FS Executive has not announced a timetable for an Industrial action ballot, this might be because they are still reeling from the shock that their cosy partnership arrangement with BT has abruptly come to an end.

Even under a Broad Left leadership workplace militancy was a long way down the list of priorities and the minority who spoke out were isolated or worse. It is literally decades since a branch requested a ballot for industrial action preferring instead to enjoy generous facilities including time off and accomodation from the employer. Key people who were part of the BL split the electoral machine that put them on to the executive in order to capture the Deputy General Secretary and other National Officer posts via a deal with the right wing clerical section.

That leadership now face their biggest test in mobilising a membership in the main had no experience of a fight with the employer. Of course that doesn't mean they can't win but if they do the question of how to deal with the dead hand of the bureaucracy at CWU HQ remains.

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