Watch as striking BT and Openreach employees in South Shields brand pay rise as a 'slap in the face' and cite colleagues having to use food banks

Striking BT and Openreach workers have branded their £1,500 pay increase a “slap in the face” and cited employees having to use food-banks as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.

Employees on the picket-line were particularly aggrieved as the increase – which equates to an average five per cent rise – has been “imposed” at a time the company has made a £1.3bn profit and Chief Executive Officer, Philip Jansen, was awarded a 32 per cent salary increase.

With inflation currently at 9.4 per cent and projected by the Bank of England to rise to 11 per cent, it left staff at the BT call centre at Harton Quay feeling they were left with “no option” but to withdraw their labour today (July 29) and on Monday (August 1).

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BT employee and Communication Workers Union (CWU) representative Miranda Stephenson, 49, said: “Ninety seven per cent of CWU members voted to strike. It’s disgusting to have this flat rate pay rise imposed on us and a real slap in the face for staff at a time when the CEO has received a £3.5m pay rise, the company has made a £1.3bn profit and £750m has been paid to shareholders.

"Staff at the call centre are some of BT’s lowest paid and we want an increase in line with the rise in the cost of living. It’s an absolute disgrace that employees are having to turn to food-banks. I know of one BT branch which is using its site as a food-bank.

"It’s even more galling the day before the strike we were sent an email highlighting how much money the company has made. I don’t know who thought that was a good idea but the timing was horrendous.”

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Many employees at the call centre belong to the EE union who did not reach the ballot threshold for industrial action.

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BT Harton Quay staff on the picket line fighting for fair pay.

However EE members and BT employees David Ray and Mel Wilson decided to use their annual leave to join the picket-line.

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Mel, 42, said: "If the CEO can have a 32 per cent pay rise why can’t we have something in line with inflation?”

David, 42, added: “We want a cost of living pay rise of around 10 per cent.”

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Supporting the strike was South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck who said: “What’s being offered is a real terms cut while the CEO receives a multi-million pound increase. It’s shocking that hard-working people are having to go to food-banks.

BT employee and Communication Workers Union representative Miranda Stephenson said that some employees have been having to use food-banks as the cost of living crisis continues to bite.
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"BT have a choice and are choosing not to pay their workers fairly.”

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Responding to the strike a BT Group spokesperson said: “At the start of this year, we were in exhaustive discussions with the CWU that lasted two months, trying hard to reach an agreement on pay. When it became clear we were not going to reach an accord, we took the decision to go ahead with awarding our team member and front-line colleagues the highest pay award in more than 20 years.

“We’ve confirmed to the CWU we won’t be re-opening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could. We’re balancing the complex and competing demands of our stakeholders and that includes making once-in-a-generation investments to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks, vital for the UK economy and for BT Group’s future, including our people”