Union Halts BT Strike Vote Over Legal Worries

The Communication Workers Union has scrapped a strike ballot over industrial action at BT, after legal concerns about the way the vote was conducted

The threat of industrial action that could impact the UK’s telecoms infrastructure has receded after the Communication Workers Union (CWU) said that it had cancelled its ballot of BT workers over strike action because of legal concerns.

Last month, the CWU announced it would send out ballot papers to more than 50,000 BT workers who are CWU members.  This came after the union rejected an improved pay offer from BT, which is two percent this year followed by a three percent increase next year. The union is seeking a 5 percent pay rise, but BT has said the strike will harm everyone.

The CWU has previously said that BT’s offer is below inflation – which it puts at 5.3 percent.

Now according to Reuters, the CWU scrapped the ballot as it was concerned that technical breaches in the way the vote was conducted could invalidate the ballot. The decision reflects a climate where companies are ready to use legal action to ban strikes unions in disputes such as the one between BA and its cabin crew, even over comparatively minor breaches of strike procedures.

Bitterly Disapointed

The union said it would enter into more talks with BT, but at the same time would take renewed steps for another vote.

“We’re bitterly disappointed that this ballot has had to be cancelled. It’s devastating for our members and for trade union rights in the UK and of course it doesn’t help to resolve the outstanding issues over pay which we have with BT,” said Andy Kerr, CWU deputy general secretary.

“The legal technicalities on which this ballot has been cancelled again raise questions over the right to strike and the extremely restrictive trade union laws that exist in the UK. The law, in our view, appears to be outdated when it comes to the provision of information,” he added.

“We will take all necessary steps to allow us to re-ballot our members as soon as is practically possible. In the meantime we will also be taking up an offer from BT for a meeting to see if there is a way to resolve this dispute without the need for industrial action.”

Window Of Opportunity

The reaction from BT was almost immediate.

“BT is pleased that the CWU has withdrawn its ballot for industrial action,” the company said in an emailed statement to eWEEK Europe UK. “There were procedural issues regarding the ballot that we raised from the start and the union have now accepted this to be the case.”

“Our door remains fully open to the union and so we hope we can sit down and resolve this matter,” BT said. “An amicable agreement is in everyone’s interest and the withdrawal of the ballot provides both sides with a window of opportunity in which to reach such an agreement”.