BT workers to vote in strike ballot

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The Independent Online

Workers at telecoms giant BT will vote in the next few weeks on whether to strike in a dispute over pay following the breakdown of peace talks, it was announced today.

The Communication Workers Union, which represents over 50,000 employees at the company, said the ballot will open on June 18, with the result expected on July 5.



The union said only a "significant improvement" on an original 2% pay offer for this year would resolve the row.



The firm made a fresh offer earlier this week which it said was worth 5.1% over 21 months, several additional one-off payments and guarantees on job security.



But the CWU has been seeking a 5% increase for this year, highlighting BT's "soaring" profits, huge bonuses for senior executives and a 6% payout for shareholders.



Andy Kerr, the union's deputy general secretary, said: "Things have undoubtedly got worse since our meeting with BT yesterday. The company is now showing complete contempt for staff and for the reasonable pay rise we are seeking for our members in the company.



"BT's revised offer failed to make any material improvement in pay for 2010 which we have made crystal clear is the key to resolving this dispute. While we are happy to consider a two-year deal, there must be an improvement in pay for this year.



"BT has been misleading in the way it has presented other elements of the revised offer. For example, the union has always worked with BT to avoid compulsory redundancies so the inclusion of this in any deal appears to be more of a threat than an offer."



Mr Kerr said the union had been involved in negotiations with BT for over a year to repatriate work from India, so it was "disingenuous" to claim this was a new offer.



"If BT is willing to make a genuine improved offer we will of course meet them to try to find an end to this dispute. In the meantime we have no option than to press ahead with balloting our members for strike action.



"Our members are amazed at the aggressive attitude of the company and the contempt with which they are being treated. The victimisation of many of our members and reps - which has included direct communications from the company threatening that staff will get a pay freeze if they take industrial action - is adding to the anger and outrage at blatant double standards when it comes to remuneration for those at the top of the company.



"We want a fair and affordable rise and we will not stop until BT understands this."



A BT spokesman said: "We are astonished the CWU have rejected an improved offer which would have given their members job security.



"Our offer is considerably more generous than those they've accepted elsewhere, including at some of our competitors.



"BT has moved several times over recent months but the union have remained rooted to the spot, demanding a pay rise that is out of line with the current market.



"Their demand for 5% this year alone is simply unrealistic and we would question how many major companies are making such an offer in the current environment."



BT released details of its revised offer, which included a 2% pay rise from April 2010 to December 2010, followed by a 3% increase in the 2011 calendar year, which the company said equated to a 5.1% rise over 21 months.



The firm has also offered a lump sum payment for the first three months of 2010, worth 0.5%, a guaranteed bonus of £250 per employee to be paid in July 2010 rather than December 2010 as previously planned and a further bonus of £250 in mid-2011 subject to BT's performance in the 2010/11 financial year.



BT said it had also given a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies among direct BT staff in the UK between now and the end of 2011.



A further review would be held in October for more than 7,000 staff that could see them receive an additional 5% increase in consolidated and pensionable pay, said a spokesman.



BT is also offering to see if work carried out by third parties can be brought back in-house.

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