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BECTU settles BBC pensions dispute, for now

BECTU members voted to accept the BBC's improved offer on pensions but the dispute could resurface if the pensions deficit is shown to be less than £1.5bn.

28 October 2010

BECTU issued the following press release today, 28 October, following the decision by members in the BBC, Studios and Post-Production Ltd and BBC Worldwide to accept the improved pensions offer tabled by the BBC on 1 October.

BECTU settles BBC pensions dispute, for now

Members of media and entertainment union, BECTU, have called time on their pensions dispute with the BBC by accepting the improved offer tabled by the Corporation on 1 October.

In consultative ballots which closed at 12 noon today (28 October) BECTU members have accepted that the BBC’s offer is the best that can be achieved through negotiation. Members in the BBC and in Studios and Post Production Ltd voted by 65% to 35% to accept the improved offer; their colleagues in BBC Worldwide voted in favour by a bigger margin of 89% in favour to 11% against.

That said, the dispute could resurface next year if the pension deficit claimed by the BBC turns out to be less than £1.5bn. The official deficit figure, following the triennial review of the scheme, will be confirmed by June 2011.

Four months of talks

Unions representing staff at the BBC, of which BECTU is the largest, have been working together since June to negotiate improvements to management’s initial proposal. The BBC’s plan provoked widespread anger amongst BBC staff and was dubbed a ‘pensions robbery’.

Senior management had proposed to cap future increases in pensionable pay by 1 per cent each year from April 2011; even more significantly, the corporation's initial proposals failed to protect the earned entitlements of scheme members, leaving many facing a cut in their pensions of up to 30%.

A strike action ballot, concluded on 1 September, revealed support for action from 90 per cent of members, a fact which put management under even more pressure to improve on their proposals for pension reform.

Today BECTU members have accepted the following changes:

  • A 1% cap on pensionable increases from 1 April 2011 for those who choose to remain in their existing defined benefit (final salary) scheme;
  • The option from April 2011 to join a new, career average defined benefit scheme (CAB2011) which will enable members to accrue salary-related pension benefits, without a cap on annual increases, based on 6% employee contributions;
  • An extension of time - until December 2011 – for current staff to decide to join CAB2011 or the new defined contribution scheme to be introduced in December 2010; this provision will allow members buying added years, or paying additional voluntary contributions (AVCs), more time to accrue these benefits;
  • CPI up to 4% to be used to calculate the annual uprating of accrued benefits in CAB2011 and the annual uprating of pensions in payment (a mechanism to review the level of uprating in times of high inflation has also been agreed);
  • A sum, up to £5m each year, will be used to match employee contributions to AVCs up to a maximum of £300 a year;
  • Members who choose to leave their existing scheme for CAB2011 will become deferred members and will see their accrued benefits protected against RPI in line with the rules of their existing scheme;
  • A new defined contribution scheme will be open to new recruits to the BBC from December 2010 and will also be an option for current staff.

Commenting on the ballot result, BECTU general secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said:

“I believe that the outcome of these talks, given the climate which the BBC and other public bodies face today, represents a decent settlement for BBC staff and is one that would not been have been achieved without the enduring support of our members and their local representatives.”

“However, there is no hiding the fact that even with the improvements we have negotiated members will in future have less favourable terms than exist currently.”

Time to decide

BECTU believes that a deciding factor in today’s ballot results is that BBC staff will not have to make a decision about future pension arrangements until December 2011, at least six months after the extent of the current scheme deficit is known.

Extensive talks between the BBC and the joint unions - BECTU, the NUJ and Unite - have taken place over the four months since June; the unions held two rounds of open meetings with staff across the country and consultations with members continued via thousands of email exchanges. 

Members of Unite, and of Equity and the Musicians’ Union, whose members are also affected, have also voted to accept the BBC’s offer. Acceptance of the offer on pensions also resolves the pay review for 2010/11. All staff paid up to £37,726 are set to receive a flat rate increase of £475.00 backdated to 1 August 2010. Today’s agreement also paves the way for the introduction of a new agreement governing the treatment of staff at risk of redundancy. In addition, BECTU looks forward to an end to the abuse of staff acting up in senior roles, thanks to a new agreement designed to allow such staff to be confirmed in the more senior role after two years.

NUJ members rejected the BBC’s offer in their ballot which also concluded today.

BECTU expects that talks between the joint unions and the BBC will continue until the end of the consultation period on 15 November 2010.

ENDS

For more information contact Sharon Elliott, communications officer, on 020 7346 0900. 

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