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Striking workers will curb network upgrades, claims BT

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The summer of strikes threatened by BT staff over pay could hamper the firm's efforts to improve its aged network, according to the man in charge of the work.

Openreach boss Steve Robertson told the Financial Times that industrial action may mean BT misses its self-imposed upgrade target of four million premises by the end of the year. It is installing a combination of fibre-to-the-cabinet and fibre-to-the-home in mostly densely-populated areas of the country.

The warning comes as 55,000 BT members of the Communication Workers Union vote on whether to strike for a larger pay rise than the two per cent on offer this year (with the promise of a further three per cent in 2011), with the result of the ballot scheduled to be announced on 5 July.

Union leaders are arguing for five per cent this year, in line with the pay awards granted to many senior managers. BT says it can't afford to give everyone the same raise.

While upgrade work would be likely to be slowed by a walkout, a greater worry for BT would be maintaining its current service. Contingencies are in place for non-CWU staff and managers to cover as much work as possible, but at the same time a pecking order of customers is being drawn up.

Communications faults reported by essential services such as police will get highest priority, followed by high-value business customers. Small businesses and residential subscribers will be last in line if BT is short staffed. ®

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