Members of the CWU – Communication Workers’ Union – said turnout had been fantastic at the picket line at the Castle Street, Banbury BT telephone exchange, with support from at least one Banbury Labour Party member and members of the North Oxfordshire Socialist Alliance.
Motorists passing by hooted their horns in support on Friday. Union members will be there throughout today (Monday).
Spokesman Mark French said: “We’ve made a successful start with colleagues throughout the UK standing together and firmly challenging the CEO of BT Group, Phillip Jansen, when he decided to blatantly ignore CWU members’ call to return to negotiations and avoid the first official strike since 1987."
Mr French said every member of the union had overwhelmingly voted against the forced implementation of a below-inflation pay deal which he said had been imposed without any negotiation, setting a ‘very dangerous precedent’ for future pay deals.
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"We've been given a single, taxable payment of £1,500 which the CEO said is the biggest pay rise for the last 15 years. He's put it in our wage packets and said there is no negotiation. It allows him to come to us next year and impose £500 or nothing. It’s nowhere near inflation and it takes away our collective right to negotiate.”
BT said today (Monday) it had made the best award it could and was balancing ‘complex and competing demands of stakeholders’.
Picket line supervisor and CWU member, Ian Clayton said: “We feel totally ignored and outraged by Phillip Jansen’s lack of respect for our efforts and achievements, that continues to create a profitable company which has provided Phillip Jansen with a 32 per cent pay rise to £3.5 million during a period when many of my colleagues are struggling to pay their bills.”
Retired member Richard Beasley said: “I feel extremely proud to support my friends and CWU colleagues on the picket line.
"Everyone here is in agreement and remains positive in their commitment to taking industrial action in the future. We have been overwhelmingly supported by the passing public and local BT managers have been kind enough to provide everyone on the picket line with drinks and snacks.”
Mr French said unions representing a number of industries were talking of consolidating action which could lead to a General Strike.
"People have had enough with being robbed. People are talking about dis-affiliating with the Labour party for not supporting the working person. People in unions are paying out to the Labour Party but it is not supporting them – the working person is the backbone of the country,” he said.
He said those on strike are not being paid.
“There are 25 of us on the picket line but others who haven't come to work. A few will be at work and we have discouraged them.
"We've all got mortgages, families to feed and bills to pay but there comes a time when you have to take action. We're being ignored even though we've kept this company going through the pandemic - our engineers have been keeping the country connected and this is the thanks we get.”
In a press statement the CWU said its members’ efforts over the pandemic produced over a billion pounds in profit for BT Group.
“Friday’s strike was nothing short of rock solid. In every town and city, BT Group employees manned over 400 picket lines, showing their opposition to a management that doesn’t seem to care about them.
“Friday’s strike should be a wake-up call to Philip Jansen and BT Group that workers in this country will not sit idly by and watch their living standards crumble.
“The public is fed up at the level of corporate greed in this country today, and our members will be out again on Monday to tell BT Group that enough is enough.”
Responding to BT Group’s quarterly results CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said: “BT Group are now gaslighting our members.
“Announcing hundreds of millions of pounds in profit on the eve of the first national strike since 1987 smacks of arrogance and complete contempt for frontline workers.
“This dispute sits squarely at the feet of Philip Jansen. He represents everything that needs to change about big business in Britain.
“Our members kept the country connected during the pandemic. They deserve a proper pay rise, and that’s what they’re going to get.
“We’re asking for a pay rise in line with inflation which is going up and will probably be at ten per cent by the end of the year.”
BT Group spokesperson said: “At the start of this year, we were in exhaustive discussions with the CWU that lasted for two months, trying hard to reach an agreement on pay. When it became clear that we were not going to reach an accord, we took the decision to go ahead with awarding our team member and frontline colleagues the highest pay award in more than 20 years, effective April 1.
“We have confirmed to the CWU that 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.
“While we respect the choice of our colleagues who are CWU members to strike, 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 for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.”