Friday, 9 July 2010

BT workers given short shrift in CWU's backroom compromise

A strike by BT workers has been averted, with the employer and the Communication Workers' Union (CWU) reaching a deal on a three-year pay rise.

Originally, BT had offered workers 2.5% for the current year, whilst the CWU was asking for 5%. As I wrote when the dispute first arose, put next to last year's pay freeze and the inflation rate this still amounted to a 4.8% pay cut.

The new deal gives workers 9.3% over three years, or 3.1% this year, and thus the real-terms pay cut is actually 6.7%.

True, it's slightly better than the initial offer, but in now way does this justify CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr's zealous optimism. Quoted by BBC News, he said, "this is a fantastic deal for our members, providing a fair rise in their basic pay this year and for the following two years."

He's not wrong that "this deal is among the highest pay settlements in the country this year," but this doesn't automatically make it "fair." It certainly doesn't make it "fantastic." With BT chief executive Ian Livingston getting a £1.2mn bonus, it is an insult that ordinary workers had to negotiate and threaten strike action to get the current paltry offer.

Even worse is the fact that the CWU invalidated its own strike ballot long before BT ever had to seek a court injunction, removing its most powerful bargaining chip from the equation.

CWU members have still got to vote on whether to accept the current pay offer, and a strike re-ballot is promised. But with Kerr recommending this inadequate settlement so enthusiastically, there is little hope that workers will be offered anything more, and greater expense will remain their reward for generating the company's £1bn profits.

But, as the postal workers have long since discovered, this is how the CWU operates. Indeed, it is how mainstream, bureaucratic trade unions in general operate.

BT workers will be expecting two ballots in the post very soon. If they feel they have been given short shrift, then they could do worse than go against Kerr's reccommendations, reject the pay deal, and vote for strike action.