999 strike: Emergency call operators to walk out with their BT/Openreach colleagues

Openreach, Telecoms & Financial Services, BT


Company intransigence over pay means that October will see some 40,000 telecoms engineers, call-centre staff and others being joined by critical-service workers…

“We intend to serve notice on BT Group today for four days of strike action during October,” CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr told this morning’s national meeting of branch delegates in central London. “And we intend to up the ante – so we’ll remove all emergency cover and pull out 999 operators.”

With four all-out national strikes having taken place at the end of July and during August in response to the company’s imposition of a flat-rate £1,500 pay deal, there was now a need to increase the impact of the action on the business, he explained. While there had been meetings with BT, the individuals on its negotiating team had refused to move on pay and had declined, in their words, to ‘re-open 2022 pay’.

Praising those present, along with all of our reps and members for their solid support, Andy said: “The strikes so far have made a real impact,” but, this had not yet been enough to force a change and that, while the dispute would be won, it would be a long, hard fight. After reminding his audience of the “nearly half a million” that the BT CEO had pocketed so far this year, he added: “This is not a company on its uppers. This company can well afford to move on pay.”  

In his speech, our general secretary Dave Ward agreed with Andy’s estimation of the challenge facing the union in winning the dispute with BT, saying: “We’re being honest – it’s going to be a tough dispute.

“Our plan of action will make clear to Philip Jansen the CEO that we’re not walking away. That while the CWU is willing to talk and to resolve the dispute, we’re also willing to take strike action,” he said, and added that the union also intended to press harder on the extremely large payments that have been going to senior people in the company and would be asking the question: “Why are they taking such handouts form the company when they won’t pay workers a fair deal?”

Dave also spoke of the wider situation in the UK at this time, citing the rising numbers of industrial disputes against the backdrop of the continuing cost-of-living crisis and of how the new Enough is Enough campaign had grown rapidly within this context. On the political front, our general secretary looked ahead to next week’s Labour Party conference and told the audience that the party leader Kier Starmer had asked to meet with him to discuss the BT, Royal Mail and Post Office disputes. On behalf of the CWU, Dave said that he would be pressing Mr Starmer to raise the key issues in these disputes in Parliament as robustly as possible.

CWU president Karen Rose then invited delegates from each branch to report on the situation within their respective localities and also to put forward their own viewpoints and if they had questions for Andy or Dave. And this part of the meeting gave a strong indication of the sheer determination of the union right across the country to win the right settlement for members.   

There was strong support for the plan to call out our 999 members – a step that was recognised as both necessary and timely – while other suggestions included variations on the theme of increasing the effectiveness of the action and bringing sufficient pressure to bear on the company to move in the right direction on pay. Other branch delegates cited the recent agreements that the union has made with other companies and suggested that the union should use these examples to “shame” BT.

Both Andy and Dave replied to the points raised – one of which concerned the potential for taking continuous action short of strike during periods in between strike days – and CWU head of comms Chris Webb responded to some of the points raised on campaigning issue, saying that the companies that the CWU is currently facing “are set for the long haul” and that the whole union was united in facing up to this challenge.

At the end of the briefing, delegates were thanked for attending and Karen Rose said that she looked forward to the planned Facebook Broadcast to come that evening – at which further details on the new bout of action to come would be formally announced.

  • View Facebook broadcast with announced strike action dates here