BT's managers vote to disrupt phones over pay

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Labour Editor

British Telecom customers face delays and disruption after thousands of managers voted by four to one to take industrial action in protest at a pay offer worth 6 per cent.

Members of the Society of Telecom Executives decided by 6,782 to 1,683 to disrupt services, arguing that individual increases would depend largely on a "discredited" performance pay system.

It is understood that following the overwhelming mandate for industrial action short of strikes, the union may decided to ban overtime which frequently makes up about 20 per cent of managers' hours. Other options could include a work to rule and a "withdrawal of goodwill". Repair of telephone faults could be among the services to be hit, according to union sources.

The pay rise, which BT intends to "impose" on its employees, is made up of two elements. An average 4 per cent increase will be paid in the form of a "consolidated" rise and a further 2 per cent as one-off lump sum payments of pounds 750 to pounds 1,200.

A spokeswoman for BT said the company would be favouring lower paid middle managers in the distribution of performance pay. The company felt that those at the top of the pounds 18,000 to pounds 36,000 pay range were already well remunerated compared with comparable jobs in other companies.

Simon Petch, general secretary of the union, said the offer was shrouded in secrecy because no one knew how much each individual would receive or how the decision would be made. He said some might get nothing, adding: "Many simply do not trust the company to treat them fairly and resent a system which is so shrouded in secrecy."

Some outstanding performers have seen their pay artificially held down because they were deemed to be earning enough already, Mr Petch said. Most managers received no pay rise in 1994 and two-thirds of them got less than the inflation rate last year.

Both sides acknowledged that talks were probable next week in an attempt to avoid disruption.

BT said the package was fair and registered its disappointment with the vote by members of the union who made up 13,500 out of the 20,000-strong layer of middle management. The company's spokeswoman said it did not expect services to be disrupted.