BT and Openreach workers joined by South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck on the picket line as they strike for better pay
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The workers picketed the communications giant’s call centre in Harton’s Quay, South Shields, on Thursday, October 6 – the second time in three months – after receiving a flat pay increase of £1,500 earlier this year, despite the company making a profit of £1.3billion and CEO Phillip Jansen receiving a 32% pay increase.
With the cost of living crisis beginning to bite and inflation continuing to rise, workers say they had no choice but to strike, with BT refusing to negotiate a more substantial pay rise with the workers unions.
Joanne Shaftoe, chairperson of the Tyne and Wear Clerical branch for the Communication Workers Union (CWU), which BT and Openreach workers, believes more needs to be done for workers who kept the country connected during the pandemic.
She said: “Our terms and conditions have been eroded over the last couple of years and these workers were key workers, keeping Britain connected throughout the pandemic. The profit that BT has made is obscene and they’re refusing to give these key workers a share of that profit and they’re refusing to give us a decent pay rise this year.
“We had a £1,500 flat rate pay rise imposed on us without any negotiations with the unions and for the poorest of our workers, that represented only £511 with the national minimum wage catching up, while the CEO awarded himself a 32% pay rise.
“The cost of living crisis does impact everybody, we’re not being greedy here. BT has kept the country connected. It kept the NHS connected, it let children do their school work from home, it let the majority of the workforce in Britain work from home while we couldn’t go out and socialise.”
She added: “All we’re asking for is a decent pay rise so that we can get the faith back that we have in the company.
"The morale is so low at the moment, we’re doing everything we can and we’re prepared to take more strike action.”
Strikers were joined on the picket line by South Shields MP Emma Lewell Buck, who wants to see the government and businesses do more to support workers.
She said: “I’m here supporting CWU workers in South Shields who are fighting for decent terms and conditions and decent pay.
"Nobody wants to go out on strike but when a company won’t negotiate and you know the profits are there it can leave you with no choice.
"The money is there but they’re not giving it to the workers who kept us going throughout the pandemic.
“We already know people are struggling, bills are going to go through the roof, inflation is rising, so it’s going to get worse for people, so of course they deserve a pay rise.
"Nobody should be going to work and working for their poverty, but we’ve got that situation right across the UK now.”
She added: “Chief executives of companies and the Government all need to step up and make sure that when people actually go to work, they’re earning enough money to live on and survive.”
In a statement ahead of the strike, a BT Group spokesperson said: “We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, whilst we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action, we are profoundly disappointed that the CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action by including 999 services in strikes.
“We will do whatever it takes to protect 999 services – redeploying our people to the most important priority is a normal part of BT Group operations.
“We made the best pay award we could in April and we have held discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here.
“In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected”.