BT workers at Barrow's telephone exchange are due to join 40,000 in staging a strike tomorrow (Friday).

More than 40,000 BT Group workers are to hold a two-day national strike in a dispute over real-terms pay cuts, with senior management accused by a union's general secretary as having 'stuck two fingers up' to key workers.

Staff at the Abbey Road exchange who are part of the Communication Workers' Union are due to take to the picket lane.

The announcement followed a strike ballot, in which Openreach engineers voted for action by 95.8 per cent and members in BT returned a 91.5 per cent majority for the walkout.

The dispute centres on workers opposing the imposition by the business of a £1,500 a year pay settlement to employees, which the union views as a dramatic real-terms pay cut when compared to inflation levels of more than 11 per cent.

The members look after the majority of Britain’s telecoms infrastructure, from mobile phone connection, broadband internet and back-up generators to national health systems, cyber security and data centres.

The strike action is also likely to have a serious effect on the roll-out of ultra-fast broadband and may cause significant issues for those working from home.

It is the first strike action at BT Group since 1987, and the first national call-centre workers’ strike.

CWU general secretary Dave Ward said: “For the first time since 1987, strike action will now commence at BT Group. This is not a case of an employer refusing to meet a union’s demands – this is about an employer refusing to meet us whatsoever. The serious disruption this strike may cause is entirely down to Philip Jansen and his friends, who have chosen to stick two fingers up to their own workforce.

“These are the same workers who kept the country connected during the pandemic.

"Without CWU members in BT Group, there would have been no home-working revolution, and vital technical infrastructure may have malfunctioned or been broken when our country most needed it.

"Our members worked under great difficulty – and  got a real-terms pay cut as a reward."

He added: “The reason for the strike is simple: workers will not accept a massive deterioration in their living standards. We won’t have bosses using Swiss banks while workers are using food banks.

“BT Group workers are saying: enough is enough. We are not going to stop until we win.”

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Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: “The decision to take strike action was not made lightly. From the very beginning of this dispute, we have repeatedly expressed our wishes to sit down and negotiate a pay deal that treats BT Group workers with the respect they more than deserve.

“Instead, our attempts to meet and improve this situation were declined by senior management who clearly have no time for the people who make them their massive profits and this disrespect has led to the first strike at BT Group in nearly four decades.

“If the top brass at BT haven’t got it yet – this strike is a problem that is entirely of their own making. BT Group workers deserve to be treated with dignity. That means a proper pay rise, and we will not give up until we get that.”

A spokesperson for BT said: “Our job is to balance the competing demands of BT Group’s stakeholders and that requires careful management, especially in a challenging economic environment. 

“The result of the CWU’s ballot is a disappointment.” 

Openreach says it has “tried and tested” processes to mitigate large-scale employee absences and “minimise any disruption” for customers. 

“We proved this during the pandemic and as a precaution we are ready to do the same again should industrial action go ahead. We will do everything we can to keep our customers connected,” a company spokesperson said.