Emergency 999 call handlers are gearing up to walk out for the first time this week as BT Group strikes resume.
Major disruption to emergency services has been predicted on Thursday, October 6, as members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) are set to walk out – ahead of further strikes planned on October 10, 20 and 24.
The action will include 30,000 Openreach engineers and 10,000 BT call centre workers, striking in opposition to company management’s imposition of an “incredibly low” flat-rate pay rise of £1,500.
In Scotland, around 100 of the company’s employees in Dundee and Glasgow will walk out.
Workers striking are those responsible for the vast majority of the UK’s telecoms infrastructure, from mobile phone connection, broadband internet and back-up generators to national health systems, cyber security and data centres.
Joining the ranks are more than 500 operators in 999 call centres across the country.
CWU deemed the action necessary, following the “downright disgraceful” £1.3bn of profits made by the company, with CEO Philip Jansen gaining a £3.5m pay package this year.
“It is downright disgraceful that BT Group’s refusal to treat its members with an ounce of dignity has come to this,” said the union’s deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.
“Time and time again, we have asked for negotiations to resolve what may well be a dangerous dispute for many, only to be ignored by a senior management that could not be less interested in addressing the anger that exists in their workplaces.”
In previous strikes, the union and BT Group agreed that these 999 call handlers would be exempted from strike action, and that a certain number of workers would be available to work at any given time.
However, this has changed following widespread outrage at the company’s “refusal to negotiate” with union representatives.
“This decision was not taken lightly, but our union’s repeated attempts to initiate discussions was declined by a management who clearly believe they are above negotiating a fair deal for people who make massive profits for them,” said CWU general secretary, Dave Ward.
“999 operators are using food banks, they’re worried about the cost of living and are being stretched to the limit.
“Goodwill won’t pay the bills, and vital services are now being hampered because of corporate greed.”
A BT Group spokesperson said: “We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, whilst we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action, we are profoundly disappointed that the CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action by including 999 services in strikes.
“We will do whatever it takes to protect 999 services – redeploying our people to the most important priority is a normal part of BT Group operations.
“We made the best pay award we could in April and we have held discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here. In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected”.