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CWU fury as looming BT ballot is shelved

A ballot among BT workers that could have led to the telecoms giant's first strike in over 20 years has been cancelled.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) had been due to reveal the result of the voting, raising the threat of the first industrial action at the company since 1987.

But the union said late yesterday that following legal advice, which clearly outlined that under the "notoriously restrictive" trade union laws in the UK certain technical breaches would potentially invalidate the ballot, it was cancelled.

The CWU added that it had received an offer from BT to meet for further negotiations, which it will take up.

Deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said: "We're bitterly disappointed that this ballot has had to be cancelled. It's devastating for our members and for trade union rights in the UK and of course it doesn't help to resolve the outstanding issues over pay which we have with BT."

Mr Kerr continued: "The legal technicalities on which this ballot has been cancelled again raise questions over the right to strike and the extremely restrictive trade union laws that exist in the UK. The law, in our view, appears to be outdated when it comes to the provision of information.

"We will take all necessary steps to allow us to re-ballot our members as soon as is practically possible. In the meantime we will also be taking up an offer from BT for a meeting to see if there is a way to resolve this dispute without the need for industrial action."

The CWU revealed it had received a series of letters from BT over the past few weeks which the union said effectively amounted to a legal challenge.

The union has been seeking a pay rise of 5%, pointing out that BT made over £1bn profit last year while making £1.75bn worth of cost savings, partly delivered through a pay freeze, 30,000 redundancies and changes to its pension schemes which CWU helped the company with.

Officials added that BT has paid out an increased shareholder dividend of 6% this year and paid its executives "generous" bonus payments. CWU rejected BT's original offer of 2% plus £250 and a possible additional £250, and later turned down a revised two-year offer worth 2% this year and 3% for 2011.

The union represents over 50,000 BT staff in the UK.