BT workers in Leeds to go on strike for first time since 1987

Up to 1,300 BT workers across West Yorkshire are expected to go on strike over the next few days, as union leaders call the latest pay offer an “absolute disgrace”.

BT engineers across the country are set to strike after the CWU balloted members on the latest pay offer.
(Pic: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)
BT engineers across the country are set to strike after the CWU balloted members on the latest pay offer. (Pic: Andrew Milligan/PA Wire)

The industrial action, which takes place on Friday, July 29 and Monday, August 1, are set to be the first nationwide strikes by BT staff in 35 years.

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It follows an offer from the company to workers of a £1,500 a year increase, which the company called its “highest pay award in 20 years”.

But, following a ballot of BT employees, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said now is the time for them to be paid back by the company, which announced net profits of nearly £1.3bn last year.

"We feel we have been patient during the lockdown,” said Mark Elwen, assistant secretary of the CWU West Yorkshire branch. “Our members have worked all the way through it.

"We were realistic – we knew the company and the government were doing the best they could to keep the economy going, so even though we weren’t happy, we didn’t make a big issue.

"We feel that now it’s time to repay those workers – especially in light of the inflation we have at the moment.

"We wouldn’t be striking if we felt there was no point to it. The last time we had a national strike was 1987.

"We always have been willing to compromise, but the company is so intransigent at the moment, that they are not even speaking to us.

"It’s an absolute disgrace, but we will change their minds.”

Mr Elwen said the union had around 1,300 members working for BT, mainly as Openreach engineers.

Leeds East MP Richard Burgon (Lab) said: “It’s been reported that BT offices have established food banks to assist employees. It’s no wonder that workers have had enough. BT workers and workers across the board deserve a decent pay rise. Workers don’t take strike action lightly - they do it when they feel they have no other option.

"Just as I support the rail workers on strike, I support the BT workers on strike. These strikes are part of a fightback against low wages and the cost of living crisis. Working people are struggling to their heads above water. This can’t go on.”

BT said it would postpone “any non-essential planned engineering or software updates”, leaving customers with a service similar to Christmas Day.

A BT Group spokesperson said: “At the start of this year, we were in exhaustive discussions with the CWU that lasted for two months, trying hard to reach an agreement on pay. When it became clear that we were not going to reach an accord, we took the decision to go ahead with awarding our team member and frontline colleagues the highest pay award in more than 20 years, effective April 1.

“We have confirmed to the CWU that we won’t be re-opening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could.

“While we respect the choice of our colleagues who are CWU members to strike, we will work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected. We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimise any disruption for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.”