At a record breaking live stream with over 7,000 members, the Communication Workers’ Union leadership announced that talks with the management of BT Group (BT, EE and Openreach) had broken down, and that they now intend to initiate a national ballot for industrial action.
BT Group workers have faced attacks on job security on multiple fronts in the past year. Workers in a number of sections have been made redundant for the first time in the company’s history, while tens of thousands were put on notice as the company announced a rationalisation of sites. Every worker has been informed, despite a recognised opposition in company consultation, that their redundancy terms will be reduced to the legal minimum. 170 engineers in Project Repayment have already taken five days of strike action against a forcible regrading of their role. Hundreds of agency workers for the company have been served notice that their contracts will not be renewed.
In a consultative ballot, 98% of BT Group workers rejected these changes in December, based on a 74.2% turnout. Since then, the company has announced more redundancies and ploughed ahead with these attacks. On 8th March, the company’s chairman was forced to resign in a disagreement with the CEO about the nature and direction of the shake-up in the company. It’s clear that management have geared up for a significant confrontation with union members – workers who were critical throughout the pandemic.
Bosses’ offensive must be opposed
BT Group management join the likes of British Gas and Tesco, who have used the chaos and social isolation caused by the pandemic to try and drive through massive attacks on terms and conditions. It’s clear the bosses aren’t going to let the essential role these workers have played – keeping people connected, fed and warm – to get in the way of maximising profits. Meanwhile, health workers, who have been on the frontline without adequate PPE and staffing levels, have been insulted with a 1% pay offer. This offensive by the bosses and the government must be met with a coordinated, mass campaign of struggle by the trade union movement.
The leading bodies of the trade union movement – the TUC, STUC and NIC-ICTU – have failed to give workers direction on how to defend their health and safety during the lockdown. Now, the assault on workers’ terms and conditions must be stopped. The trade union movement must announce a series of days of action, linking up workers engaged in disputes across both public and private sectors, to build towards a 24-hour general strike.
Solidarity to BT Group workers!
Fight for a new ‘job security policy’ with:
- a commitment to zero redundancies;
- a return to redeployment, with pay and pension protection;
- enhanced voluntary leaver schemes for those seeking early retirement;
- a commitment that all positions left vacant will be properly staffed;
- bringing all subcontractors in-house on equal terms and conditions;
- a joint campaign involving the professional and managers’ union Prospect, to make this a company-wide policy.