Comms providers could move to exploit the chaos that would be caused by BT's first strike since 1987.
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As a high noon deadline for BT to raise its pay offer to staff passed without a resolution, the Communications Workers' Union (CWU) warned that many of its members work as BT engineers, and strike action could result in faults on business landlines and Internet connections going unresolved, as well as a backlog of support calls when staff return to work.
Although MicroScope understands that BT is preparing contingency plans, the disruption caused could give significant leverage to rival providers, particularly fast-growing ISPs such as TalkTalk, which have already benefited from discontent among end-users.
The growing row stems from a clash between BT staff and senior management. Employees are demanding a 5% rise, which the CWU claims "would only account for a fraction of BT's recorded profit," but BT is refusing to budge from a 2% offer.
But at the same time the company has come in for criticism after it revealed that chief executive Ian Livingston is in line for a £1.2m bonus and will pocket a 6% pay rise, taking his basic salary to £900,000.
The CWU claims that other senior BT staff have seen inflated rewards. According to union figures chairman Sir Michael Rake saw his salary rise 6.3%, former Global Services boss Hanif Lalani got 44.8% and non-executive director and former secretary of state for health Patricia Hewitt got 70%.
BT's failure to budge means the CWU will now ballot its 50,000 members who work at the communications giant over strike action. The CWU said it had seen a "tidal-wave" of revulsion among its members over the remuneration packages awarded themselves.
"We've made our position very clear, 2% is not good enough when the company is making profits of over £1bn, paying shareholders a 6% dividend and paying out large sums to senior executives while inflation is at 5.3%," said CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.
"Our members are angry about the blatant double standards when it comes to pay for those at the top compared to the rest of staff at the company," he added.
The CWU will now press ahead with a strike ballot and will release further details next week.