Emergency 999 call handlers are joining BT and Openreach colleagues across the UK on the picket line for the first time.
Major disruption to emergency services has been predicted on Thursday, as members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) walked out – with further strikes planned on October 10, 20 and 24.
The action includes 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 employees of BT Group in Dundee and Glasgow will walk out, alongside more than 500 operators in 999 call centres across the UK.
It comes just months after thousands of BT employees held their first strike since 1987 – a day after the company revealed its revenues had increased to £5.1bn in the first three months of 2022.
In previous strikes, the union and the company 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, CWU has now deemed their presence necessary, following “downright disgraceful” profits made by the company and CEO Philip Jansen gaining a £3.5m pay package this year.
“999 operators are using foodbanks, they’re worried about the cost of living and are being stretched to the limit,” said the union’s general secretary, Dave Ward.
“Goodwill won’t pay the bills, and vital services are now being hampered because of corporate greed.
Mr Ward alluded the company had failed to join discussions initiated by CWU, and “believe they are above negotiating a fair deal” for their employees.
“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.”
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”.