Key worker: those working for telcos have been identified as critical by the UK government  © REUTERS

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Telecom groups including BT, Verizon and Virgin Media are raising salaries and in some cases expanding their workforces against a backdrop of pay cuts and heavy job losses ripping through the global economy. 

The sector has been relatively unscathed in financial terms by the coronavirus pandemic, with demand for broadband and mobile services soaring as millions switch to working from home, and the UK and US governments identifying communications workers as critical. 

Verizon has said that its engineers and retail staff in shops that have not closed at the US group will receive “significantly enhanced” compensation for performing essential services without specifying details. 

Hans Vestberg, chief executive of Verizon, told the Financial Times that staff who have continued to work in the field to support customers — be they engineers or shopworkers — deserved credit. “Those are the heroes,” he said 

BT will hand frontline staff such as engineers and call centre workers a 1.5 per cent pay rise in the summer but has frozen remuneration for all managerial-level personnel at the UK group during the pandemic. 

BT chief executive Philip Jansen, who was diagnosed with coronavirus last month, has also said he will donate his salary for at least six months to NHS charities to raise funds to fight the Covid-19 outbreak.

Mr Jansen’s annual base salary is £1.1m. The pledge does not cover any bonuses that may be payable for the previous year which are yet to be approved by BT’s remuneration committee.

Virgin Media also raised salaries by an average of 2.2 per cent this month and is hiring 500 staff to work in its call centres to ease the strain on customer services during the lockdown. A further 700 engineers who previously worked as third-party contractors for the cable company were also hired directly last week. 

The BT and Virgin Media pay rises are in line with typical annual increases for non-managerial staff but stand out against a backdrop of sweeping job cuts and staff being placed on unpaid leave in other sectors. 

BT said it would not furlough any staff despite being forced to close its stores, which employ 4,200 people. It is trying to redeploy those staff toward customer service roles. 

Around 400 engineers who have been hired to work for Openreach, the group’s network arm, but are unable to be trained in current conditions will also be paid in full. BT added that a £500 bonus in the form of shares agreed last year will still be paid to staff. 

Neither Virgin Media or Verizon have made announcements on whether executive pay will be reduced. 

“This is an unprecedented situation and I want to give our people some certainty about the months ahead,” Mr Jansen said. “This period requires sacrifices from us all, and I want our people to know we are all in this together.”

However Prospect, the union that represents BT’s managers, said it was “premature” of the company to decide to freeze the pay of its members without consultation. John Ferrett, national secretary, said: “Our members are doing vital work for the company, whether line-managing frontline workers or in supporting the direct delivery of the business.” 

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