BT customers could be facing a difficult few months as the Communication Workers Union (CWU) consider a national strike. If the walkout goes ahead, it will mark the first time that BT has been the target of any industrial action in over 30 years. With millions of us still working from home and reliant on our broadband connection to work, study, or socialise with friends and family in the evening – it couldn’t have come at a worse time.
The Communication Workers Union, which represents 45,000 BT staff, has warned that any strike action would have a “massive impact” on the network and that could mean customers are left without critical connections, including landline telephones and broadband.
The walkout could not only impact those who are signed-up with BT, but also EE and Openreach connections too. Openreach provides the underlying broadband infrastructure for Sky, TalkTalk, Vodafone and Plusnet, amongst others.
According to the CWU, it took the decision to move towards a national industrial action ballot over an “unprecedented and sustained assault on job security and hard-won terms and conditions”. If passed, the walkouts would begin in late spring.
The fallout between the union and BT concern the telecom company’s plans to close sites across the country over the next few years to concentrate its operations in 30 sites. This is partly due to BT’s accelerated push towards fibre broadband and 5G networks.
“We didn’t pick this fight,” said deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.
“In fact we’ve provided management with every possible opportunity to step back from the brink, consistently offering to work in partnership with the business to address whatever challenges it faces – just as we’ve done on numerous occasions over the decades since privatisation.
“What we’re not prepared to accept, however, is seeing members’ cherished job security and Ts&Cs being attacked on multiple fronts – with longstanding colleagues being picked off one by one, simply because a new breed of management wants to stamp its mark by making compulsory redundancies as a matter of warped principle.
“If BT don’t want us to ballot then they can have us back round the negotiating table just as soon as they want. Our door is still open, and we want to resolve this dispute, but this will require a huge shift in attitude from the company. At this point in time that doesn’t look as if it’s going to happen – and that’s why we’re gearing up to fight.”
In response, a BT spokesperson said: “We’re disappointed that CWU is contemplating industrial action, though the union has not started the formal industrial action process. We remain committed to discussing the concerns they have raised. BT needs to go through a period of immense change and investment to modernise itself for the future.
“Once complete, we will have a much simpler operating model with fewer people and we’ll be better able to serve our customers. Such change is always difficult – that’s why we have been discussing our plans with the unions and will continue to do so.”