Workers Hold Strike Vote As BT Calls For Delay

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As the CWU ballots its BT members over strike action, managed service provider Star advises companies on how to deal with industrial action

The threat of industry action that could impact the UK’s telecommunications infrastructure has moved one step closer, after the Communications Workers Union (CWU) began balloting BT workers over strike action.

The CWU is sending out ballot papers on Friday to more than 50,000 BT workers who are members of the union. Last week the CWU 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.

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

Lengthy Strike

BT has meanwhile called on the CWU trade union to postpone a strike ballot and return to discussions. According to the Financial Times, CWU’s deputy general secretary said that the union was willing to organise a lengthy strike if necessary, but could compromise on a pay rise of less than 5 percent.

“We are surprised by the union telling the media they are willing to compromise on their 5 percent claim. At no stage have they formally put forward an alternative proposal,” a BT spokesman was quoted as telling Reuters.

“Given this, we call on the union to postpone the ballot and return to formal discussions with the company.”

If the strike goes ahead, it would be the first at BT for more than 20 years and it could potentially impact the installation, maintenance and repair of telephone and broadband lines in the UK.

However, managed service provider Star said there was no reason to panic and it offered the following advice to businesses worried about the threatened BT strike.

What To Do

“We would like to emphasise that there is no need to panic and that at this stage it is unclear if the strike will proceed and how widespread it will be,” said John Adey, COO of Star. “However, for companies who are looking to minimise the risk of any potential disruption,  it is advisable to review their options.”

John Adey, Star
John Adey, Star

“The briefings we have had from BT are no more than to tell us that is a risk to portions of BT’s network if industry action takes action. But until the ballot occurs nobody knows, but people are already thinking about consequences,” Adey told eWEEK Europe UK.

“If the strike impacts BT OpenReach, then it could affect the majority of copper in the ground, as for most people their ‘last mile’ connectivity will likely be on BT infrastructure. But a strike doesn’t mean there will be a problem. BT has told us that they are rightly giving priority to the Blue Light service (emergency services).

“What business can do for themselves however, is think about the shape of their disaster recovery and business continuity plans,” he said. “If your primary connection is an Ethernet connection, then it may be a good idea to commission a cheap ADSL line (as it can be commissioned in 5 days). This is  quick to implement, cheap to maintain, and usually comes with minimum contractual commitments.”

“As ADSL runs over standard copper, and your Ethernet over fibre, there would be a good separation of components in case of failure,” he added. “We are encouraging people to realise that you don’t necessarily have to have your people in the office for them to be effective. If you lose your office link for example, think about people’s connectivity for working from home.”

“And the popularity of putting things in the cloud should help matters, as these are not likely to be affected,” he said. “For example, if an organisation uses a cloud-based email system, it is likely to be more resilient, and protect customers from this type of action.”

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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