BT strike looms on CWU stalemate


BT staff may strike after pay negotiations with the CWU (Communications Workers Union) broke down last week, but such action has been avoided for O2.

The CWU said negotiations with BT have come to a halt after it rejected BT’s “final offer” of a two per cent pay increase for non-management staff. The CWU demanded a five per cent rise in February and originally expected negotiations to conclude by the end of April.

The Union, which represents around 50,000 of BT’s 86,000 employees, says it helped BT save around £1.6 billion in 2009 and that BT is expected to show an 11 per cent increase in profits to £1.5bn in its end of year financial results out this month.

The CWU accuses BT of similar tactics to those used by O2 in March (issue 460) by offering a deal based only on the CWU recommending it to its members.

BT said staff would receive a cash bonus of £250 based on targets, but refused to give details on what those targets would be. The Union said it would be “crazy” to accept such a deal. No further meetings are scheduled at this time.

“The CWU has bent over backwards to help BT over the past 18 months or so. If we don’t get any further there is now an open threat of balloting for strike action. In terms of any timetable we don’t have one. But we have told BT in no uncertain terms its offer is unacceptable. The offer only exists if we recommend it as its much more likely to be accepted by our members. BT says it’s its final offer so we are now at a stand off”,  said a CWU spokesperson.

“We have rejected what it is calling its final pay offer. We are formally waiting for BT to get back to us after sending our letter of rejection.  It’s a similar situation as O2 but probably more serious. We have done pretty much all that we can at this stage. No union would enter in to a deal they don’t know what they are signing up to. It’s crazy.”

The CWU say BT highlighted the “fragile” economy and pointed to a pay freeze in the public sector. BT has also called the CWU’s demands as “unrealistic” and claimed some staff will receive up to a 5.4 per cent pay increase based on its offer and intends to do a further pay review in October.

But the CWU rejects these claims, highlighting its profits and savings which demonstrate it “can” afford to give its staff a pay increase.

“BT has weathered the storm of the recession and will be making some very substantial amounts of money this year. Staff should be rewarded for their part in that. BT employees are fed up. They make in excess of £1.5 billion profit and it won’t give its staff a decent pay rise. This is why things are as bad as they have ever been.”

A BT spokesperson said: “We are disappointed the CWU leadership has rejected what is a very fair offer. Our offer is more generous than some of those accepted by the union elsewhere”.

“CWU members enjoy significantly better pay and conditions at BT than at other companies and our offer will ensure this remains the case. We have offered a package that could see the lowest paid union members receive up to 5.4 per cent in pay and bonuses and that compares very well with the rest of the market. There will also be a pay review for some staff in October.

“We are keen to safeguard jobs for the long term and a realistic pay deal will be a major step in that direction. We hope the union review their position as this is our final offer.”

Meanwhile the CWU claim to have made a break through with O2 after “last gasp” discussion on Friday 16, thwarted any possible industrial action for now. The CWU insisted no deal had been agreed. But O2 is discussing the prospect of a pay offer for its staff. The Union expects further talks within the next 10 days.

“The ball is very much in O2’s court right now. For the first time it discussed pay progression which has been one of the major sticking points. They have previously refused to discuss it. There is still no agreement. But the fact it discussed the issue is very welcome. We are hoping they come back within the next 10 days with something”.