BT strike ballot to go ahead as union rejects pay offer

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has announced that it will be sending out strike ballot papers on 18 June after talks with BT over a pay dispute broke down.

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The Communication Workers Union (CWU) has announced that it will be sending out strike ballot papers on 18 June after talks with BT over a pay dispute broke down.

CWU met with BT for five hours of talks yesterday after receiving a pay deal that included a two percent pay rise for employees from April 2010 to December 2010 and a three percent pay rise for the 2011 calendar year. BT also pledged to ensure that no compulsory redundancies would be made among BT staff in the UK until the end of 2011.

However, the CWU has stood by its demand for five percent pay increase for its members, and has decided to press on with a strike ballot after talks to secure this broke down. It expects to announce the results of the ballot on 5 July.

Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary, said that BT’s latest pay offer was not a “material improvement” on the one-year, two percent pay rise that the CWU rejected previously.

“If BT is willing to make a genuine improved offer we will of course meet them to try to find an end to this dispute. In the meantime, we have no option than to press ahead with balloting our members for strike action.”

He also said that the situation has got “undoubtedly worse” since the meeting with BT yesterday.

“The company is now showing complete contempt for staff and for the reasonable pay rise we are seeking for our members in the company,” he said, adding that BT was “victimising” members and union reps.

“[This] has included direct communications from the company threatening that staff will get a pay freeze if they take industrial action,” he said.

BT confirmed that it would withdraw its latest offer if industrial action goes ahead and said "we will review from there".

It added: "It is misleading for the union to suggest that we would impose a pay freeze. We have never said this."

CWU also claims that BT is presenting its latest offer in a “misleading” way.

“For example, the union has always worked with BT to avoid compulsory redundancies so the inclusion of this in any deal appears to be more of a threat than an offer,” said Kerr.

He also said that BT’s pledge to bring back office and call centre jobs from India was nothing new.

“In regard to repatriating work from India, we have been in a separate set of negotiations with the company for over a year regarding resourcing arrangements for this so it is disingenuous to claim this is a new offer.”

BT said that its offer was worth 5.1 percent pay rise over a 21-month period. Other terms of the latest pay offer included the payment of a lump sum worth 0.5 percent of salary for the first three months of 2010 to reflect a two percent pay rise and a guaranteed bonus of £250 per member to be paid in July 2010. The company also offered a further bonus of £250 to be paid in mid-2011, subject to BT’s performance in the 2010/11 financial year.

A spokesman for BT said last night that it was “astonished” that the CWU rejected its offer, and reiterated that it believed its offer was “considerably more generous” than offers the union has accepted elsewhere.

“Their demand for five percent this year alone is simply unrealistic and we would question how many major companies are making such an offer in the current environment,” said BT.

BT’s troubled Global Services division, where CWU represents a number of employees, may also be affected if union members vote to strike. The division cut 5,900 jobs as part of a total group cull of 35,000 jobs in the last two years.

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