BT call centre workers to strike over 'stress'

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The Independent Online

Staff at BT call centres are set to stage a one-day strike after voting for industrial action to protest at their "oppressive" working environment.

Staff at BT call centres are set to stage a one-day strike after voting for industrial action to protest at their "oppressive" working environment.

Thousands of workers at 37 centres will take action on November 22 over what they describe as excessive pressure and stress and a management style "borrowed from the previous century".

Members of the Communication Workers Union voted by 81% to launch a campaign of one-day strikes after accusing the company of failing to listen to their complaints.

The strike will be the first national walkout at BT for 13 years.

The union said staffing was inadequate at the centres, which deal with queries over bills, repairs and services.

Deputy general secretary Jeannie Drake said: "Our members' ability to take leave is limited, their attendance patterns are too rigid and they are subjected to performance targets which are deployed to intimidate them.

"The company must treat workers with dignity and respect. It needs to translate its glowing public image into positive action."

The union complained about "excessive" use of agency workers, insufficient staffing levels and an inability to deal effectively with customers because of targets which limit the amount of time they can spend on calls.

The union pointed to comments made by BT managing director Bill Cockburn about the need to work "smarter, not harder".

Ms Drake said: "It grates with people who are systematically pressurised and ignored."

BT said it was "disappointed" by the outcome. "We had hoped that the staff would have appreciated the recent improvements we have made such as recruiting extra staff and meeting their concerns about working practices," said a spokeswoman.

Further talks will be held to try to settle the dispute and avoid any action which could hit services, said BT.

The company said it had taken on an extra 1,800 staff to help with an increased workload.

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