BT staff latest in Britain to vote for strikes over pay

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Logo of British Telecom (BT) is displayed outside a store in London, Britain, November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

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  • Nearly 96% of 21,000 Openreach engineers vote to strike
  • Majority of BT call centre staff voting also choose strike
  • BT says vote result a 'disappointment'
  • Union says any strike could disrupt remote work for customers

LONDON, June 30 (Reuters) - Thousands of BT (BT.L) call centre and engineering staff voted on Thursday to strike over demands for better pay at the telecoms group, the latest in wave of labour disputes across industries that threatens a summer of disruption in Britain.

Almost 96% of roughly 21,000 BT Openreach engineers voted in favour of a strike, the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said in a press briefing. Some 91.5% of BT Group workers who voted, many of them call centre staff, also favoured a strike, the union said.

Any strike — which would be the first in 35 years at the telecoms group — will have a "serious effect" on infrastructure, particularly on broadband rollout, and may cause disruption to phone and internet users including those working from home, CWU said.

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The union called BT's award this year of a 1,500-pound ($1,823) pay hike to frontline workers, which translates to 3%-8% increases, as "incredibly low" and insufficient to cushion the impact of a cost-of-living crisis. BT has called the pay award its biggest in 20 years.

British inflation, which reached 9.1% last month, is at its highest in four decades, contributing to strikes or threats of industrial action by workers across transport services, schools, postal services and hospitals. read more

"Call centre workers are some of the most casualised and isolated workforces in this country ... the unprecedented vote they have taken today demonstrates the anger so many people feel in this country today," CWU General Secretary Dave Ward said in a statement.

BT Chief Executive Philip Jansen's most recent annual pay jumped 32% year-over-year to 3.5 million pounds ($4.3 million) — a figure the CWU says is 86 times the average pay across BT's Openreach, BT and EE divisions.

"The result of the CWU's ballot is a disappointment but we will work to keep our customers and the country connected," a BT Group spokesperson said.

"Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group's stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment."

Turnout of union members at BT's EE mobile brand was under the 50% required for a strike to be legally valid, the CWU said.

($1 = 0.8229 pounds)

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Reporting by Sachin Ravikumar and Paul Sandle; editing by William James and David Evans

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