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999 call handlers to join BT and Openreach strike over pay

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T workers and Openreach engineers will stage a fresh strike on Thursday in a long-running dispute over pay.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said its members working as 999 emergency call handlers will also walk out, warning of disruption to emergency services.

Around 30,000 Openreach engineers and 10,000 BT call centre workers have already taken industrial action, and further strikes are planned for October 10, 20 and 24.

The union said the strikes are in opposition to BT Group’s imposition of an “incredibly low” flat-rate pay rise of £1,500, which it described as a “dramatic real-terms pay cut” because of soaring inflation.

This dispute is modern Britain in a nutshell: lives are at risk because a company’s top brass won’t listen to workers

The CWU said that in previous strikes it was agreed that the 999 call handlers would be exempt, but it added that after widespread outrage at the company’s “refusal” to negotiate with union representatives, these workers will now be joining their company colleagues.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “This dispute is modern Britain in a nutshell: lives are at risk because a company’s top brass won’t listen to workers.

“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.

“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.

“BT management clearly has no appreciation of its workforce, or their social value, but this union does, and we will keep on fighting this company’s attempt to plunge its workers into even further hardship.”

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

CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “It is downright disgraceful that BT Group’s refusal to treat its members with an ounce of dignity has come to this.

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.

“This is a problem created by corporate greed – and as usual, its effects will be felt by ordinary people.

“But BT Group workers are determined and united. They will fight hard to get the proper pay rise they deserve.”

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 reopening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could. We’re balancing the complex and competing demands of our stakeholders, and that includes making once-in-a-generation investments to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks, vital for the UK economy and for BT Group’s future – including our people.

“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.”

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