Workers backed strike action by an overwhelming majority following a ballot back in June, prompting the first industrial action at the company in more than 30 years.
The dispute comes after BT forced through a flat pay rise for all staff worth between 5% and 8%, which the company has said is the best it could offer.
Leading figures in the Communication Workers Union (CWU) have taken issue with this claim, pointing to record profits, high levels of executive pay and major shareholders payouts in recent years.
When are strikes taking place?
An initial two days of strike action took place on 31 July and 1 August, with workers manning over 400 pickets lines and receiving “solid support” from the public, according to CWU.
Since the announcement of the strike ballot in late June, BT published a trading update showing profits after tax of £422m in the three months to 30 June 2022.
Speaking on the eve of the first wave of strike action, Ward said the announcement, “smacked of arrogance and complete contempt for frontline workers”.
The second wave of strike action began today and will continue until Thursday.
CWU general secretary Dave Ward, who laid out his thoughts on the wave of industrial action to NationalWorld last month, said that without CWU members, “there would have been no home-working revolution, and vital technical infrastructure may have malfunctioned or been broken when our country most needed it”.
He said: “These people have performed phenomenally under great strain and have been given a real-terms pay cut for a reward.
“The reason for the strike is simple: workers will not accept a massive deterioration in their living standards.”
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “The constant disrespect shown towards our workforce has led to strike action that has been supported overwhelmingly by the public.
“If the top brass at BT haven’t got it yet, this is a problem entirely of their own making.
“BT Group workers will receive the dignity they deserve. That means a proper pay rise, and we will not give up until we get that.”
There will be some disruption to telecoms services as a result of industrial action, though BT has stressed that it has contingency plans in place.
A BT Group spokesperson said: “We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, although we’re disappointed, we respect their decision to strike.
“We have made the best pay award we could and we are in constant discussions with the CWU to find a way forward from here. In the meantime, we will continue to work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected.”
Why are workers going on strike?
Workers were balloted across all three arms of BT Group’s business, with workers at OpenReach, and British Telecoms voting to walk out.
Within the OpenReach part of the business, of 28,425 workers who were eligible to vote, 21,272 did so and of them 95.8% voted in favour of strike action, or 20358 people.
Across British Telecoms, 6,022 (58.2%) of the 10,353 workers eligible to vote took part in the ballot, of which 5,503 (91.5%) backed industrial action.
At EE, the smallest of the three ballots, industrial action will not go ahead despite more than 95% of those who voted backing it, as the overall turnout did not meet the 50% legal threshold.
Many trade union figures have long criticised the legal threshold for ballot on industrial action, pointing out that no such rules on minimum turnout exist in democratic elections, for instance.
While more than 95% of the EE workers who voted in the ballot industrial action, the turnout fell eight votes short of the legal threshold, so these workers will not go out on strike.
CWU Deputy General Secretary Andy Kerr said that if the members who had joined the union in recent days had been allowed to vote, this ballot would also have passed.
Negotiations between CWU and BT over pay failed to result in a deal, with the firm insisting it cannot offer more than the flat increase.
Union figures point to BT’s annual profit of £1.3bn last year and the £700m paid out to investors as evidence that ‘affordability is not the issue’.
BT has offered and already implemented a flat pay increase of £1,500 per year for all UK staff, which the company says equates to a rise of around 3% for workers on top-end salaries, and around 8% for those on lower wages.
In a press conference to announce the ballot results, Ward warned the company that they must take back the imposed pay deal and renegotiate, which could have seen industrial action prevented.
“We always want to achieve a settlement,” Mr Ward said, “but we are serious about this.”
Can BT afford to offer workers more?
While director’s salaries have not increased , overall directors pay is up on last year as a result of bonuses, which the company says were paid in part as share options.
As the highest paid executive director, Philip Jansen’s total package in 2022 was worth £3.4 million, compared with £2.6 million in 2021.
Mr Jansen has invested more than £10m in BT Group shares since 2018 and owns shares equivalent to just over 14x his salary.
Simon Lowth, another director, saw his overall remuneration package rise from £1.8 million in 2021 to £2.2 million in 2022.
CWU has also highlighted the significant dividend payout to investors, totalling £700 million last year.
Mr Ward said: “For the first time in nearly four decades, we are faced with national level strike action across BT Group.
“Our membership faced the challenges of home working, high staff turnover, and a real culture of fear created by senior management to deliver an overwhelming show of support for strike action.
“I want to pay specific tribute to our call centre workers in BT, who have delivered a historic move by voting for the first - and biggest - national call centre workers strike in British history.
“Call centre workers are some of the most casualised and isolated workforces in this country. They are notoriously difficult to organise, and the unprecedented vote they have taken today demonstrates the anger so many people feel in this country today.
“Our members were never going to accept imposition. BT Group thought they could get away with bullying treatment – they were wrong.
“These workers kept this country connected during the pandemic. Without CWU members working across BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution.”