By Jason Theodorou

Telecoms giant BT may be set for the first strike action in 23 years, as a ballot of 50,000 CWU union members is revealed later today. The CWU has called for a 5% pay rise for all staff, while BT has offered a 5.1% rise over 21 months and a series of one-off payments.

BT offered a pay rise of 5.1% over 21 months, increasing to a 3% rise in 2011. CWU deputy general secretary Andy Kerr said that the revised offer showed no progress from previous proposals, but he was open to a new proposal to 'end the dispute'.

The CWU says that BT can well afford a pay rise after making profits in excess of £1 billion. Mr. Kerr said: 'This is about fairness and reality. Our members have had a pay freeze, pension changes and redundancies over the last two years but now the company is profitable, inflation is high and BT is paying out big money to shareholders and senior executives. If it's good enough for them, it's good enough for our members'.

The ballot will close on Monday, and a strike could take place as early as 12 July. Strike action would leave thousands of BT customers without access to phone lines or internet.

BT is expected to ask managers from the Openreach engineering unit to fill in for technicians on strike. The strike would be the first since 1987, and would see walkouts by staff from engineering, call center and retail positions.

BT has said the company will build a fiber network serving two thirds of UK homes by 2015. A BT spokesman admitted that strike action could delay these plans.

BT has cut 35,000 jobs in the last two years, which has contributed to a fourth-quarter operating profit which surpassed analyst estimates.

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