A CWU member reports on the first union conference since the General Election to draw up battle lines in the private sector.
Telecoms delegates at the CWU Conference unanimously endorsed a motion calling for strike action to oppose BT’s 2010 pay offer. The offer is 2% less than the current rate of inflation, cuts the link with pensionable pay and includes a profit-related element. All these features are unacceptable to CWU members. Since Conference the Telecoms Executive has called a ballot for strike action, with the result due to be announced on 5th July.
Union meetings for BT members are being held up and down the country, but management is also busy. Staff (who rarely have team meetings due to the relentless productivity demands) have been removed from front office and customer service functions – both in call centres and on repair and maintenance teams – to have “huddles”.
Managers are spreading misinformation about the union ballot, putting individuals under pressure and removing union literature. Senior managers are touring large sites and junior and middle managers are being prepared to reacquaint themselves with life “back on the tools”.
BT has also threatened to use contractors from Carillion and Telent during any strike action. They are particularly worried about the effect a strike would have on Next Generation Access (the superfast broadband network), the massive NHS IT contract and services provided to Other Licensed Operators – and the penalty payments that they may subsequently incur. While the telecom sector has been liberalised since the mid-1980s and there are many other firms, BT is a giant in the market and provides many of the network services on which the other firms (including mobile operators) rely.
The union’s case is a simple one – workers in one of the most profitable companies in a highly profitable sector should not be denied a pay rise. BT’s profits, announced in April, were up 6%; costs were down £1.7 billion; the pension deficit was down; cash flow was up. The dividend paid to shareholders is now 6%. Our claim is only for 5%! Members of the BT Board are all getting 5-7% pay rises and bonuses on top, which represents up to 79% for the likes of Ian Livingston, the CEO. The increase of over 44% for the ex-Finance Director Hanif Lalani, widely seen as responsible for the massive fall in revenue for BT Global Division last year, is particularly contemptible – a 44% increase for failure, from a company which preaches the virtues of performance related pay!