BT faces strike action

Workers accuse telco giant of constant monitoring, 'intimidating' performance targets

BT is accused of being "a big brother institution" as workers in BT call centres vote overwhelmingly for strike action Monday.

It is the latest blow for the telco, following a barrage of criticism last week over its new Net tariff. Communication Workers Union members in BT's 150 and 151 customer service centres will begin a series of strikes this month. Staff are unhappy at what they describe as "a management style borrowed from the previous century". It will be the first national strike BT has faced for 13 years.

A CWU spokesman described the call centres as "battery hen places" in which staff are watched constantly and given "intimidating" performance targets. "There is also the fact that the staff are constantly monitored, adding to the impression that BT is a big brother institution," he said.

In a statement, deputy general secretary of the CWU describes the main problems BT workers are facing. "Staffing is inadequate, which means the company rely on agency staff. 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," she said. "BT positions itself as central to a bright new future. It is difficult for our members to buy into that when they are working in an oppressive present," she added.

BT admits the call centre staff have been under pressure and claims it is working to improve working conditions. "We acknowledge they have been under pressure, but we have recruited 1,800 new staff and are putting agency workers on permanent contracts," a spokesman said. "We are working to resolve this dispute this week," he added.