Labour’s Lisa Nandy has condemned the government as 999 emergency call operators joined strike action, accusing ministers of having “crashed the economy and poured fuel on the fire of rising inflation”.
In a Sky News interview this morning, the Shadow Levelling Up Secretary also took aim at BT, which she highlighted has “just given huge pay rises to its top brass, but is opening food banks for its own workers in order to eat”.
Asked whether she thought emergency call operators should go on strike, Nandy said: “I don’t, but neither do they. I’m not going to sit here and condemn emergency call handlers who’ve been told that they’ve got to choose between staying in a job that they love and feeding their own families.”
999 operators joined a BT Group walkout today. The Communications Workers’ Union (CWU) had previously agreed to exempt 999 staff from the strike but changed its position after “widespread outrage at the company’s refusal to negotiate”.
Further strikes are set to take place on October 10th, 20th and 24th. The industrial action includes the 30,000 Openreach engineers and 10,000 BT call centre workers who have taken action in previous months in opposition to BT Group management’s imposition of a flat-rate pay rise of £1,500.
CWU has described the offer as a “dramatic real-terms pay cut” in the context of the retail price index (RPI) measure of inflation having reached 11.7%
BT recently reported £1.3bn in annual profits with the CEO Philip Jansen receiving a £3.5m pay package – a 32% increase. The strike action also follows reports that the company had established a food bank at the North Tyneside EE site.
Keir Starmer has been criticised for his stance on industrial disputes this year. Union leaders spoke out in opposition when the Labour leader instructed shadow frontbenchers not to attend picket lines during rail strikes in June.
Frontbenchers have been seen on picket lines since. Nandy was seen with striking members of the CWU in August, as were party whip Navendu Mishra and shadow employment minister Imran Hussain.
Nandy said today: “Keir Starmer has been absolutely clear that our job is to get into parliament and solve this problem, get into government and handle the economy right, and that is exactly what we’re focused on.
“That’s why next week, I will be in parliament doing my job so that those emergency call handlers can get back to work and do their own. But we’re clear, and the workforce are clear, that they need us — some of the only people in the country who’ve got the right to hold this government to account and summon them to the House of Commons to do so in order to solve this crisis for working people.”
Asked whether she would join the picket lines, Nandy said: “I’m not going to be on a picket line next week or in the coming weeks, I’m going to be in parliament doing my job. And actually I’ve never gone out and picketed because that is not my job.
“I’ve been a member of parliament now for 12 years, I’ve always met with my constituents, I’ve always listened to their concerns, and when they go on a picket line, I know that they do it as a last resort, but that’s their job. My job as their member of parliament has always been to go out and fight for wider change.”