WORKERS at the Runcorn base of mobile phone operator O2 have moved a step closer to strike action after rejecting a proposed new pay structure.
Around 1,700 people are employed at the firm's call centre in Preston Brook and in a ballot 95.5% voted against the new structure.
O2 wants to scrap across-the-board pay rises for non-managers and replace them with performance-related rises.
This has angered many of the staff who work there and a recent, strongly-worded letter sent by the Communication Workers Union (CWU) to its members, stated: "No employer in the United Kingdom has given such an austere and draconian message to its workforce in recent times."
However, O2 has insisted the new pay formula is fair and claims the overall pot for pay rises will increase by 6.2%.
CWU campaign co-ordinator Mark Taggart said the proposed formula set "unattainable" targets for most staff.
He said: "The employees have been split into two groups. The first is the former BT workers who have been told they won't get a rise for seven years because their pay levels are already too high.
"The second group of new contract workers will be given a pay formula that would mean that, to get a rise, you have to achieve the maximum targets, which for most people will be impossible.
"At the same time the bosses at the firm are paying themselves obscene amounts of money and we think they are the worst kind of fat cats.
In a statement, O2 said: "We are disappointed that, despite our best efforts, we have been unable to reach agreement with the CWU regarding non-manager pay.
"We are committed to performance-based pay, with our best performers receiving the best pay and rewards, and market based pay, where pay bands for each role are benchmarked to the wider market.
"Our pay proposal is more than last year and more than originally requested by the CWU and will mean that around 96% of our non-managers will receive a performance payment this year.
"The majority will see an increase in base salary, the remainder will receive an unconsolidated lump sum. Therefore, only around 4% of all our non-managers would get neither a base salary increase or a lump sum as a result of poor performance."