Members of the Communication Worker Union (CWU) at BT have voted to hold a strike ballot over a pay dispute.
According to CWU, “hundreds” of delegates representing around 60,000 staff at BT, voted unanimously in favour of the ballot for industrial action.
BT’s troubled Global Services division, where CWU represents a number of employees, may also be affected by a future strike. The division cut 5,900 jobs as part of a total group cull of 35,000 jobs in the last two years.
In an emergency motion, CWU said that it would immediately serve formal legal notice to BT of its intention to ballot for industrial action if it does not receive a revised pay offer “that reflects the contribution made by CWU members” by midday on 4 June.
Although CWU demanded a five percent pay increase, BT’s final offer was a two percent consolidated increase and two non-consolidated and non-pensionable £250 payments, the latter being dependent on meeting undisclosed end of year targets. Prospect union, which represents 30,000 BT staff, have already accepted a two percent increase offer from the company.
The vote, conducted at the CWU telecoms annual conference today, came as BT published its 2010 annual report, which revealed that its chief executive, Ian Livingston, received an annual bonus of £1.2 million. This bonus was on top of a basic salary of £850,000.
BT was keen to point out that Livingston hit 142 targets out of a possible maximum 200, which led to his large bonus. He has also deferred a £50,000 salary increase due last year to this year, and has opted instead to receive a two percent increase (£17,000) and donate the rest (£33,000) to charity.
Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, said: "This is about fairness. We don't mind senior executives getting bonuses, but we want all staff to share in the success of the company. Staff have borne the brunt of the cost savings and have delivered the profits but are being treated as a second thought.
"Strike action is clearly a last-resort. We've not had a national strike in BT since 1987 so this is not something we take lightly. We hope the company will return to negotiations and avoid the need for any strike action."
CWU rejected BT's pay offer, saying that its demand would be more in line with the company's recent financial success. In its annual report for 2010, BT recorded a pre-tax profit of £1.25 billion, up from a loss of £244 million last year, while revenues fell two percent from £21.4 billion in 2009 to £20.9 billion this year.
Kerr added: "BT can afford a decent pay rise for staff this year, there's no doubt about that. Their profits are extremely healthy and free cash flow is almost double the forecasts at £1.9billion. With a pay-freeze last year and inflation now running at 5.3%, BT's attitude to pay is insulting and the staff deserve more."
BT said that it was “disappointed” by the CWU’s decision to call a ballot.
"But our door remains open," it said. "We have written to the union this week to say we remain willing to meet with them. Our final offer is fair, realistic and more generous than those they have accepted elsewhere.
"This offer could see their lowest paid members receive up to 5.4% in pay and bonuses with some thousands of staff also enjoying a second pay rise in October."
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