WORKERS at telecoms firm BT are staging strike action against a real terms pay cut today with pickets at locations across Wales and the UK.

More than 40,000 BT Group workers have voted to hold a two-day national strike, with senior management accused by communications union CWU general secretary Dave Ward as having “stuck two fingers up” to key workers.

At the Newport picket line this morning  Jonathan Gibbons, one of those taking action, said: "In previous years we have had the chance to discuss a pay deal. This year they’ve just imposed one on us without us being able to

"This sent alarm bells ringing. What else might then be imposed?

In the strike ballot Openreach engineers voted for action by 95.8 per cent and members in BT returned a 91.5 per cent majority for the walkout.

The dispute centres on workers opposing the imposition by the business of a flat-rate, £1,500pa pay settlement on employees, which they view as a real-terms pay cut when compared to RPI inflation levels of more than 11 per cent.

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A BT spokesperson, however, said this was the "highest pay award BT Group has made in more than 20 years".

Gibbons said: "We worked right through the pandemic making sure everyone else could work from home.

"Even the lower rungs of the structure are having a bad deal. For the higher rates it’s an insult.

"No pay rise last year. We did get a bonus due to covid but that was a one-off payment.

"We’re also on strike on Monday. We don’t want to be here – we’re not getting paid and especially with the world as it is.

"We have to do it.

"For the service we provide – the very least we could get is in line with the cost of living.

"We’ve had resounding support among staff for the picket."

The strike comes after it was announced that BT's annual profit was £1.3 billion, with CEO Philip Jansen gaining a £3.5 million pay package – a 32 per cent wage increase.

This in turn comes amid reports of BT offices establishing food banks to assist employees.

Also in Newport for the protest today was Paul Cullen.

He said: "They [BT] announced their profits yesterday. What arrogance.

"They can afford a better pay deal."

BT Group staff are responsible for keeping tabs on the vast majority of Britain’s telecoms infrastructure, from mobile phone connection, broadband internet and back-up generators to national heath systems, cyber security and data centres.

Shane Williams, picketing in Newport this morning, said: "On an everyday basis, the staff here were going over and above, year in year out.

"When we needed them [management] they weren’t there.

"They just take, take, take."

The strike action is also likely to have a serious effect on the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband and may cause significant issues for those working from home.

It is the first strike action at BT Group since 1987, and the first national call-centre workers’ strike.

In Haverfordwest, CWU assistant branch secretary, Chris Harold, speaking at the demonstration outside the Open Reach, said staff have had enough.

“Our members are sick and tired of the hypocrisy,” said Chris.

“BT say they cannot afford it (the pay rise) but they recently paid £760million to shareholders.

“Open Reach is underpinning society. We are the key to how Britain performs in the labour market and we hope this will bring BT back to the negotiating table.”

Joyce Watson, the Labour MS for Mid and West Wales, attended the picket in Pembrokeshire and said: “I fully support these guys in their action. They have not had a substantial pay rise in three years.

“People cannot go on like that. There has been massive inflation rises in food and fuel costs and these are people who are already just meeting to pay their basic needs.”

Pickets have also been staged in Cardiff, Swansea and towns throughout Wales.

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CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “For the first time since 1987, strike action will now commence at BT Group.

"This is not a case of an employer refusing to meet a union’s demands – this is about an employer refusing to meet us whatsoever.

"The serious disruption this strike may cause is entirely down to Philip Jansen and his friends, who have chosen to stick two fingers up to their own workforce."

A BT Group spokesperson said: “While we’re disappointed that the CWU has decided to take industrial action, we respect the decision by their members to take industrial action.

“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.

“BT Group awarded a fully consolidated pay increase to its team member and frontline colleagues of £1,500. This represents a pay rise of around 5 per cent on average and 8 per cent for the lowest paid and it was effective from April 1, 2022.

"This is the highest pay award BT Group has made in more than 20 years."

Additional reporting: Harry Jamshidian

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