THE first-ever call centre strike in the UK is on the cards after BT workers voted to down tools in a company-wide dispute over pay.

Members of the Communication Workers’ Union (CWU) employed by the BT group overwhelmingly backed strike action.

The CWU has touted the call centre workers’ decision as “historic” and noted that organising amongst this constituency has been difficult as more than 80% of them work from home.

Around 9000 call centre workers were balloted alongside 30,000 OpenReach engineers, who backed strike action by 91% and 75%, respectively.

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Workers are opposed to the “unjust” pay rise of £1500 – which the CWU says is a “dramatic real-terms cut” with inflation predicted to rise to 11.7% this year.

This is a pay rise of 5% for most workers, BT said, and "up to" an 8% increase for the lowest-paid workers. 

If strike action goes ahead, it will be the first walk-out by BT employees since 1987.

The CWU warned the strike could halt the roll-out of broadband and may pose “significant issues for those working from home”.

Philp Jansen, the CEO of BT Group, took home an eyewatering £2.6 million last year, according to the Economic Research Unit.

David Ward, general secretary of the CWU, said: “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.”

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He noted that communications workers “kept this country connected during the pandemic” and paved the way for the “home working revolution”.

“We will not accept seeing workers use food banks while executives use Swiss banks,” Ward added.

“For too long now, corporate bosses have been rewarded for wrecking companies, chipping away at workers’ conditions so their rich mates to get even richer.”

Over 40,000 BT Group employees were balloted and the turnout among OpenReach employees was 74.8%, while call centres delivered a 58.2% turnout.

The CWU said they had organised both groups – who often work in isolation – through in person and virtual meetings, live Q&A sessions, social media and a phone banking campaign with help from the Trades Union Congress.

It comes amid fears this summer could see a wave of strikes with nurses, teachers, doctors and lawyers all considering industrial action over the cost of living crisis. 

A spokesperson for BT said: "BT Group awarded its highest pay rise for frontline colleagues in more than 20 years – an average 5% increase and up to 8% for those on the lowest salaries. At the same time, we’re in the middle of a once-in-a-generation investment programme to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks.

“These investments are vital for the benefit of our millions of customers and for the UK economy. Above all, they are central to the success of this business – and its colleagues – now and in the future.

“Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group’s stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment. The result of the CWU’s ballot is a disappointment but we will work to keep our customers and the country connected.”