BT faces the prospect of thousands of its staff going on strike, after the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said it will hold a ballot on the action.
The union, which claims to represent 60,000 of BT's 96,000 full-time employees, unanimously passed an emergency motion on Wednesday to approve the ballot. The strike is part of a pay dispute, in which the CWU is asking for a increase of five percent. BT has offered two percent plus a bonus of between £250 and £500.
"Strike action is clearly a last resort. We've not had a national strike in BT since 1987, so this is not something we take lightly. We hope the company will return to negotiations and avoid the need for any strike action," Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary of the CWU, said in a statement.
The union said that the ballot will go ahead unless BT revises its pay offer by midday on 4 June. The CWU said it could not state when any strike would occur, but that it would be "in weeks, rather than days". A spokesperson for the union told ZDNet UK that late June could be the timescale, but could not say how long any strike would last.
Describing the union's demands as "unrealistic", BT told ZDNet UK that its offer is final. "We are disappointed by the CWU's decision to call a ballot, but our door remains open... We remain willing to meet them," it said.
The telecommunications and services company said its offer was equivalent to a 5.4 percent pay increase for some of the lowest-paid staff. It added that the Prospect union — which has far fewer members at BT than the CWU — had accepted the two percent offer.
We don't mind senior executives getting bonuses, but we want all staff to share in BT's success.– Andy Kerr, deputy general secretary, Communication Workers Union
The CWU believes its members are entitled to a better offer because of the level of bonuses being awarded to senior staff and because of the company's improved financial performance. BT's chief executive Ian Livingston was awarded a bonus of £1.2m in the last financial year.
"We don't mind senior executives getting bonuses, but we want all staff to share in the success of the company," Kerr said in the statement.
"BT can afford a decent pay rise for staff this year... Their profits are extremely healthy, and free cash flow is almost double the forecasts at £1.9bn. With a pay freeze last year and inflation now running at 5.3 percent... the staff deserve more," he added.
BT has reduced its headcount by about 20 percent over the last two years.
Asked whether there would be any disruption to services if there was a strike, BT declined to answer, arguing that it was too early to say.