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BT workers will be sent strike ballot papers next Friday after five hours of talks with union leaders broke down yesterday.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU), which represents about 55,000 staff, accused the firm of "complete contempt" for staff after it refused to improve on a two per cent pay rise for this year.

"Things have undoubtedly got worse," said CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr.

He said BT had threatened staff with a pay freeze if they take industrial action. If a strike were to go ahead it would be the first at the firm in more than 20 years.

The union's position remains that the two per cent offer is unreasonable in light of inflation running at more than five per cent. Rises of up to six per cent plus large bonuses for senior management have added to anger.

"We want a fair and affordable rise and we will not stop until BT understands this," said Kerr.

BT made an improved offer on Monday that would set next year's pay rise at three per cent, but while it said it is open to a two-year deal, the CWU insisted two per cent this year is unacceptable. ®

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