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Employment

'We're not going away!': Striking BT workers threaten more walkouts and label CEO 'food bank Phil'

BT workers focused their anger on CEO Philip Jansen, who has accepted a pay rise of 32%, as they began a second day of national strikes.

BT and Openreach workers across the UK have taken part in a second day of strike action calling for a “substantial” pay rise as BT Group hikes its prices and reports £1.3billion in profit. 

Striking workers focused their anger on CEO Philip Jansen, who reportedly accepted a 32 per cent pay rise and now earns £3.5million a year. They dubbed him “food bank Phil” in reference to a food bank set up in a BT call centre for the company’s own staff, which was exposed by The Big Issue.

“Jansen, food bank Phil, we’re not going away!” Communication Workers Union (CWU) general secretary Dave Ward told striking workers outside the BT Tower in London, where around 50 people stood on the picket line.

“This dispute is moving on, and we’re focusing very much, Jansen, on your future. We will call for him to go… You can afford to pay our members the money they deserve.”

Openreach and BT workers have manned around 400 picket lines across the UK, the CWU has claimed, where they have asked members of the public to drop off food to hundreds of picket lines across the country.

Speaking to The Big Issue, Ward accused BT of “adding to spiralling inflation” by “blatantly profiteering on top of inflation to make sure their own earnings, those of shareholders and of the company, continue to grow beyond inflation”.

Ward confirmed the union would be prepared to take further strike action if BT fails to offer a better deal. He also emphasised the financial toll strike action had on workers, saying the CWU will “come up with other ways to pile on the pressure on BT.”

BT has put its broadband and telecoms prices up by around 13 per cent, adding £53 a year to the cost of a BT Fibre Essential deal. 

Labour MP Kate Osborne joined the picket line in central London to “stand shoulder to shoulder with workers in their struggle for better pay and conditions.”

The MP for Jarrow represents workers at EE North Tyneside, where a food bank was set up for staff to use if their pay won’t stretch to the end of the month.

“This food bank is actually in the north-east, in my area,” she told The Big Issue. “It says an awful lot about the state of this country. It’s good that they’re helping (each other) but it’s disgraceful that it’s got to this.”

Osborne’s role as Shadow Northern Ireland Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) may put her in the shadow cabinet group ordered by leader Keir Starmer not to support workers on picket lines.

Ex-shadow transport minister Sam Tarry was last week sacked for doing just that. Asked whether his sacking changed her support of the strikes, Osborne replied: “No, not at all. I’ll always be on the picket lines supporting workers.”

Engineer Joe Brennan at the picket line outside BT Tower. Image: Evie Breese

Joe Brennan, an engineer who has worked for BT for 37 years, told The Big Issue: “A lot of people (working for BT) have been struggling for a long time and really it’s got a lot worse. A lot of people, especially the younger people, will struggle to survive.

“Having working people having to go to food banks is disgusting. You can’t say you have a proper business if your people aren’t paid enough that they can have the food they need to eat.”

The CWU rejected the £1,500 flat rate pay rise imposed by BT on its employees in April, saying it amounted to a real terms pay cut when viewed alongside inflation. 

That rise came after the minimum wage went up on April 1, meaning that for workers on the lowest pay, a pay rise was necessary to prevent wages slipping below the legal hourly rate. 

BT has called the flat rate pay rise “the highest pay award in more than 20 years”.

A BT Group spokesperson said: “We have confirmed to the CWU that we won’t be re-opening the 2022 pay review, having already made the best award we could.

“We’re balancing the complex and competing demands of our stakeholders and that includes making once-in-a-generation investments to upgrade the country’s broadband and mobile networks, vital for the UK economy and for BT Group’s future – including our people.

“While we respect the choice of our colleagues who are CWU members to strike, we will work to minimise any disruption and keep our customers and the country connected. We have tried and tested processes for large scale colleague absences to minimise any disruption for our customers and these were proved during the pandemic.”

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