(Bloomberg) --

BT Group Plc faces walkouts from staff who handle ‘999’ calls for the emergency services, intensifying their dispute on pay amid a national surge in industrial action.

Late Wednesday the Communication Workers Union announced four strikes in October, after two earlier rounds of action in recent weeks failed to secure pay increases. They’d previously excluded staff who handle calls for those needing the police, an ambulance or firefighters. 

“We will do whatever it takes to protect 999 services – redeploying our people to the most important priority is a normal part of BT operations,” a BT spokesman said by email. “We are profoundly disappointed that CWU is prepared to take this reckless course of action, but we respect the right of colleagues to strike.”

Some 40,000 staff will walk out on Oct. 6, Oct. 10, Oct. 20 and Oct. 24, the CWU added, with 30,000 coming from its infrastructure division Openreach and 10,000 from call centers. The dates follow two rounds of strikes on July 29 and Aug. 1, and then another on Aug. 30 and Aug. 31. 

In April, BT implemented a flat pay increase for what it called “front line” workers, which equated to an average 5% increase. That’s against a backdrop of UK consumer price inflation of 9.9%, around a 40-year-high. 

Chief Executive Officer Philip Jansen previously argued the London-based telecommunications group can’t afford to pay more as input costs like energy are skyrocketing following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to an internal call reported by Bloomberg.

“This dispute is modern Britain in a nutshell: lives are at risk because a company’s top brass won’t listen to workers,” CWU general secretary Dave Ward said. “This decision was not taken lightly, but our union’s repeated attempts to initiate discussions was declined by a management who clearly believe they are above negotiating a fair deal for people who make massive profits for them.”

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.