Communications Workers Union members voted unanimously this morning to ballot 60,000 BT workers for a strike in support of their 5% wage claim against BT's offer of 2% plus a guaranteed bonus of between £250 and £500.
At a CWU meeting where the mood was said to be angry and disappointed, delegate after delegate spoke to express their unhappiness with BT's offer in the face of excellent results for the 2010 financial year from the UK's largest network operator, wich earned BT CEO Ian Livingston a £1.2m. bonus.
CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said staff had borne the brunt of the cost savings and had delivered the profits but were being treated as a "second-thought".
About 14,000 BT staff and 21,000 agency and contract staff have lost their jobs in the past two years.
Kerr said BT could afford a decent pay rise for staff this year. "Free cash flow is almost double the forecasts at £1.9bn. With a pay-freeze last year and inflation now running at 5.3%, BT's attitude to pay is insulting and the staff deserve more," he said.
Kerr said BT had not faced an national strike since 1987. "This is not something we take lightly. Strike action is clearly a last resort. We hope the company will return to negotiations and avoid the need for a strike," he said.
A BT statement expressed disappointment at the vote, but said its door remained open. "It is in no-one's interest for industrial action to take place and we have written to the union this week to say we remain willing to meet with them."
BT maintained that its final offer was more "fair, realistic and more generous" than others the union had accepted elsewhere. It also said that BT workers enjoyed better pay and perks than others in the communications industry.