The 45,000 members of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) who work for BT and its Openreach and EE arms will decide by December 10 whether or not to take industrial action in what the union said was “the most important vote our members have ever been asked to cast”.
If the CWU decides in favour, it would be the first national strike at BT since 1994.
Shares in the FTSE 100-listed group, which have fallen 50% in 2020 and over the past five years are down 78% to levels last seen in the wake of the financial crisis, were up 1% to 100.5p on Thursday.
The national consultative ballot is on whether members to support the union in rejecting compulsory redundancies, “uncertain job security, the driving down of pay, grading and protections, attacks on key workers, a negative change in management style and BT’s flawed ‘better workplace programme’.”
CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “After decades of industrial stability, we are now seeing BT Group embark on a vicious programme of compulsory redundancies, site closures and attacks on pay, terms and conditions.
“They are putting profit before people.
“We know many senior managers are saying some members will not be impacted by their plans – nothing could be further from the truth.
“If we stand by and let the company implement these changes without serious opposition, then the floodgates will open.”
While increasing its prices for customers by 3.9% in recent months, BT has also opened a redundancy scheme for its Openreach broadband infrastructure arm as it pushed through a new 'location strategy' where desk-based work is to be cut from more than 30 locations to nine sites, which the CWU said would hit at least 7,000 staff.
BT also this year informed 106,000 staff of planned changes to their redundancy terms, with reports that it had proposed a 50% cut on payments.
An electronic consultation exercise last month amongst CWU members who work in BT's technology arm found 84% in support of a strike.
In the half-year to September 30, BT's revenue dropped 8% to £10.6bn due to the impact of COVID-19, including reduced revenue for BT Sport and a reduction in activity from its business customers, with management aiming to get profits back to where they were last year in part via cutting costs.