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BT dusts off pandemic playbook to counter strike action

BT is not happy with the Communications Workers Union (CWU). Despite making what the UK-based operator described as the "highest pay rise for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years," the CWU nevertheless went ahead and balloted its members, "the result of which today is a vote in favor of industrial action among its Openreach and BT members. They fell short of the required turnout among its EE members," a BT Group spokesperson said in a statement.

The CWU of course has a different view, accusing BT of "unbelievable levels of hypocrisy, telling you that a decent pay rise is not affordable while handing out massive rises to themselves."

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said BT now faces its first national strike since it was privatized in the 1980s. The union said that on a 74.8% turnout, its 30,000 Openreach engineers voted by 95.8% to take strike action. BT staff, including 9,000 call center workers, voted by 91.5% on a 58.2% turnout for strike action. A vote by CWU members at mobile operator EE failed by a few votes to reach the legal threshold.

Robust plan

The BT spokesperson said the group is now awaiting notification from the CWU of its intention to launch any specific industrial action. In the meantime, the group has been at pains to stress that it will be able to keep its operations up and running in the event of mass walkouts.

"We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimize any disruption for our customers. We proved this during the pandemic and as a precaution we are ready to do the same again should industrial action go ahead. We will do everything we can to keep our customers connected," the spokesperson said.


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BT’s chief technology officer Howard Watson made similar comments during the BT Networks Business Briefing this week, claiming that the operator has a "robust plan in place" in the event of industrial action by its workers.

"What we have been doing … is looking at how we would prioritize work," Watson said. "Most of the intervention that we make into the network is to add in capacity. We tend to spread that out throughout the year."

He noted that BT "learned a lot in the pandemic," when it reduced "some of the out-of-hours capacity of uplift work. And then we then successfully managed to catch up again on that."

Watson also observed that "unlike a production line, networks will run without manual intervention. In many cases, networks can run for quite a long time without significant manual intervention."

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— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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