back to article BT's emergency call handlers will join pay strikes

Tens of thousands of BT Group engineers and call center workers, including those who handle emergency calls, are scheduled to go on strike for a total of four days next month in a long-running pay dispute. The Communication Workers Union (CWU) is ramping up pressure on senior management at BT, Britain's largest telecoms …

  1. Commswonk

    Point of Order

    Tens of thousands of BT Group engineers and call center workers...

    Had this been about a group of employees in the US I could cope* with the use of the word "center". However, it is about a group of UK employees working for a UK business.

    I am getting to the point where I see the enforced Americanisation on this site (and anywhere else for that matter) as being insulting and offensive.

    * Just about, anyway...

    1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

      Re: Point of Order

      I occasionally enjoy pointing out to our cousins across the pond that there is a Centre Street in New York.

    2. Martin Summers Silver badge

      Re: Point of Order

      Yeah, even the BOFH got the treatment. It's like British readers are no longer deemed important despite the roots of this site. What's the betting this site is being taken over by Conde Nast soon and becomes the tabloid version of Ars Technica? There's actually nothing unique or special about the Register anymore that draws me to it. Sad times.

    3. xpz393

      Re: Point of Order

      Read a BBC article earlier which repeatedly desribed a saloon car as a "Sedan".

      I suspect it's due to the majority of media editors now being of an age where most of their early years passive learning came from online content which is mostly American English rather than British English, so the USA spellings and pronounciations are what they're now used to.

      As much as it will grate on us old(er) farts who grew up on a media diet of carefully curated BBC and ITV kids TV content, I suspect in another generation or so, British English will be preserve of elderly folks and then-outdated books.

  2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    emergency calls?

    I'd definitely support the strike if the emergency call workers stayed working to respond, although I don't know the details behind this. But I think it illustrates the problem, why the hell are the emergency calls processed by BT, not the services that handle the results of emergency issues?

    1. Andre Carneiro

      Re: emergency calls?

      Because BT have a level of control of the call that the individual services don’t. They know if calls have been disconnected or not and can stop calls from being terminated if the caller hangs up, for instance.

      Also, with a universal 999/112 number someone needs to direct the call to the correct emergency service.

    2. Tom66

      Re: emergency calls?

      BT are the service that ask you "police, fire, ambulance", the bulk of the call is then handled by a local operator provided by e.g. West Yorks police.

      The operators are trained to direct a call to the most appropriate service - and that includes the less often specified ones (coastguard, mountain rescue, any others I missed?)

      BT also provide the location services so that they know which local service to direct a call to, and the operator can try to determine that if these services aren't working for some reason.

      All in all it's pretty essential work.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap Silver badge

        Re: emergency calls?

        The operators are trained to direct a call to the most appropriate service - and that includes the less often specified ones (coastguard, mountain rescue, any others I missed?)

        Cave rescue is the other one, although ISTR they and mountain rescue calls actually get passed through to the police (who are considered the "universal" emergency service). They will get in touch with the appropriate team in turn.

        1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: emergency calls?

          Thanks for all the explanations.

  3. wolfetone Silver badge

    "A BT spokesperson told The Register: "We know that our colleagues are dealing with the impacts of high inflation and, whilst we respect the right of colleagues to take industrial action, we are profoundly disappointed that the CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action by including 999 services in strikes."

    PAY YOUR EMPLOYEES WHO DO VITAL WORK WHAT THEY ARE WORTH. The only reckless action here is BT's ignorance regarding the value and worth of their employees.

    Solidarity with those on strike.

    1. Martin Summers Silver badge

      We don't actually get any figures on what they are paid. So it's hard for me to decide if I support them or not. It's like supporting tube train drivers striking when they are on upwards of 50k.

      All I know is if anyone tried this in the real private sector they'd be out on their ear.

      1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

        -> tube train drivers striking when they are on upwards of 50k

        Try buying a garden shed on £50k. The nature of London in particular has changed over the last 30 years. It is now a place for people who make a lot of money (one way or another) or who have ancestors who have lived there and passed on the property. You might think that £50k is a decent salary, but in London, where the Tube is, it's not actually a "good" or even "reasonable" salary any more.

        1. Tom66

          Depends upon whether you own property already or not.

          I know people with £400pm mortgages creaming it in London - but they bought 20-30 years ago and are looking to a huge pension payout when they downsize into retirement. A friend of a friend in South Norwood bought their house in the mid 90's recession for about £80k and it's now worth ca. £800k.

          And of course others spending £1500pm on rent - especially young people.

          Not sure you can say there is a universal cost of living anywhere - and giving more to people (WITHOUT solving fundamental issues) is just inflationary as rent and house prices tend to track incomes. Perhaps a better avenue is to try and figure out why someone can't live on £50k pa in London when that's an excellent wage in most of the country.

          That probably means more social housing, but that's an anathema to the current government (and a lot of the electorate, too, I suspect, who own homes.)

          1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

            -> and giving more to people (WITHOUT solving fundamental issues) is just inflationary

            Try telling that to the bosses.

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      How do you define the worth of someone who answers telephone calls and redirects them (serious question)?

      Ultimately, it boils down to how much you have to pay to recruit enough staff able to do the job.

      1. Martin Summers Silver badge

        Exactly Phil. They dig out this hyperbole about their job being so important just because it's related to the emergency services. I think being a content moderator for the likes of Facebook is probably more traumatising and challenging than 999 operator. It's the people on the business end of the calls who should be paid more, and even then they chose to do it as a job, they weren't forced.

        1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

          "I'm just the lady who answers the space telephone"

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Being a 999 operator isn't like a normal operator

          It generally isn't a cool calm person asking to be connected to the local police station, they tend to be shocked, angry, crying, confused, too young to know what they want and/or dumbstruck, rather than rational and clear headed.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Of course, that's why they haven't been replaced by a "press 1 for ambulance" type of service. Doesn't change the fact that their wages are determined by the availability of staff willing and able to do the job.

        3. MickyJones

          You ever listened to someone choking to death in the background whilst you wait for the Ambulance to asnwer?

          I have. For 22 grand a year.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More corporate asshats

    Like so many corporations BT's contracts all contain CPI/RPI/COLA clauses in them.

    Where is this money going?

    Oh hang on, I think I know.

  5. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Calling the PR BS

    According to BT's CEO, "At the heart of this is our very good reason for being: we connect for good". So he will of course accept to connect to the workers to hear and talk, won't he?

    == Bring us Dabbsy back! ==

  6. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "BT said the pay award offered was the highest in decades"

    So what ?

    You've decided to offer a few more pennies than usual.

    That doesn't make your offer anything special.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "BT said the pay award offered was the highest in decades"

      And by strange coincidence, inflation is at its highest in decades

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Some 26,000 BT workers – Openreach engineers – and call center staff have been on strike"

    That should be "Some 26,000 BT workers, Openreach engineers and call center staff have been on strike"

    And in other news, separately, CWU members working for the Royal Mail, Post Office and Parcelforce are also striking, for their own pay rise

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good..BT Management are bloody awful

    I have worked with a lot of BT engineers over the years and especially lately over a few projects and they are treated LIKE SHIT. Even had one spend 40 minutes on the phone complaining about the state of the place. These guys do a LOT of work for teh customer, including cancelling plans last minute to fix problems - things I'd never do for anyone yet they get offered bugger all while the business is making $.

    I generally find the techies are really good, it's the management layers that step in and ruin everything so you're waiting for a year for an internet line to be installed

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good..BT Management are bloody awful

      Years back management decided the field staff should try to peddle extra services to customers at every opportunity.

      My mate got marked down in his annual appraisement because he had failed to flog anything, despite him pointing out that there was zero chance as 100% of his work was in 'government' departments

    2. pmb00cs

      Re: Good..BT Management are bloody awful

      Years back I was a contractor for BT.

      Our job was highly technical, and it was decided, in order to get the staff they needed, that the job would be a "management" grade job.

      This meant the formerly "technical" grade full time employees working along side us got quite large pay rises.

      However when BT decided to shed their contractors to reduce staff on what they called "the bench" (full time employees whose job no longer existed that BT couldn't fire so spent their working time applying for internal jobs) we had a problem.

      None of the technical staff, who we needed, could get through the application process as they weren't a high enough grade, and all of the managers who applied were useless.

      I lost that position without BT finding a suitable full time employee to replace me.

      I learnt some time later it did not go well.

      Tells you all you need to know about management culture in BT, totally divorced from reality.

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    just the disconnect between paying the boss an extra 32% and the people earning the good profits 5%.

    This strike may not have happened if the boss said "I'm only getting 5% , you should accept it too"

    1. VoiceOfTruth Silver badge

      Re: Its

      According to Tom66 above "giving more to people (WITHOUT solving fundamental issues) is just inflationary".

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Its

      "This strike may not have happened if the boss said "I'm only getting 5% , you should accept it too"

      Yeah unfortunately to many people are to poor at maths to realise 5% of £3,000,000 is 10x their annual salary.

  10. innominatus

    Say what now?

    "lives are at risk because a company's top brass won't listen to workers" is an interesting spin when the union itself chose to make no exemption for emergency services centre staff. Who is it that's setting out who's going on strike again?

    1. MickyJones

      Re: Say what now?

      The first two strikes we were exempted. This is on the bosses.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well now....

    This begs the question as to whether a tri- service in-house triage system for 999s wouldn't be cheaper than contracting BT / other 3rd party company.

    I worked as a young lad a few decades back doing 999 in Scotland but it was via some random telephone handling agency who also did 192. BT was nowhere to be seen. I'd like to see how much of the workload BT actually has / handles.

    Anyway, tri-service triage, fuck BT and those who'd strike on a vital service. That's like the police saying they'll stop policing.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Well now....

      So what are you proposing? Multiple phone numbers? Using a 3rd party contact service, probably based in India?

      Please explain what a "Tri-triage" service actually looks like in the real world, because I suspect you don't actually have a fucking clue

      1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: Well now....

        '999' is routed by the exchange dialled by the dialler to a call centre - *exactly* how it is done now. But with that call centre staffed by Joint Emergency Services staff, not BT staff.

      2. MickyJones

        Re: Well now....

        As someone who handles these calls, a few points.

        100k calls a day used to be something we handled Jan 31st. It's now a couple of times a week occurance.

        BT, along with other network operators are obliged by their service charter to handle these calls. Most other companies contract their calls out to BT as it's more cost effective than employing staff for their far smaller call numbers.

        These call handlers, which are a critical link in the 999 network, are the lowest paid department in BT.

    2. MickyJones

      Re: Well now....

      BT handles around 99% of those calls. Turnover is horrendous as you can earn the same at Tesco, without having to listen to people dying whilst trying to get through to an overworked Ambulance service.

      Emergency services won't employ the hundreds of extra staff to cover your idea, so it's dead in the water before it leaves the dock.

      As for striking, we were exempt from the previous two, and BT are refusing to meet. The ball is in their court. If it goes ahead, that's on Phil and his 6.5 million shares and 4 million a year salary. Company is skint though. And before you chime in with "he's earned that", the share price has been falling for most of his reign.

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