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25 October 2011

BECTU has today (Tuesday 25 October) confirmed that it will ballot members for industrial action after the BBC refused to lift deadlines for the imposition of controversial staff changes set out in Delivering Quality First.

Preparations are underway to distribute ballot papers on Friday 4 November; voting in the ballot will close at 12 noon on Thursday 24 November.

BECTU today accused the BBC of holding a gun to the unions' heads, and warned that if management did not withdraw the planned implementation dates, starting from April 2012, a 'yes' vote in the ballot would see strikes before Christmas affecting highlights of the programme schedule such as Strictly Come Dancing and the BBC Sports Personality of the Year awards.

Talks over a wide-ranging package of job cuts, reductions in benefits, and a shake-up of the BBC's pay structure began on 6 October, but despite a series of meetings with the unions, managers have refused to re-think their timetable for introduction of the changes.

Planned cuts to allowances and redundancy rights

The first of these is a cut, from April 2012, to unpredictability allowances (UPAs) for new staff. UPA is a salary top-up for staff whose hours of work cannot be scheduled on a fixed pattern. The BBC also wants to exclude new joiners from hourly overtime payments in many grades.

The BBC also wants to cut redundancy accrual rights in September 2013 for existing staff as part of its plan to cut the maximum benefit from 24 months pay to 12 months pay.

BBC plans divisive two-tier workforce

BECTU has warned that a change to UPA next April would create a two-tier workforce with newer employees taking home up to 20 per cent less pay than their colleagues pending a review of UPAs for existing staff which could cut, or completely scrap, the payment from April 2013.

BECTU, the NUJ and Unite have all stated that any reduction in UPA payments would be unacceptable.

Poorer consultation rights

Another change to the BBC's redundancy arrangements would cut the time allowed for consultation with the unions over job cuts to the minimum required under law.

For some staff this could reduce the time they have to look for other work in the BBC from six months to as little as 30 days, whilst in reorganisations where fewer than 20 staff are given notice of redundancy there is no legal requirement for employers to consult with the recognised unions.

Weaker redeployment prospects

Unions fear that this will effectively rule out any chance of redeployment for redundant staff, at a time when the BBC wants to impose more than 2000 job cuts on a workforce already depleted by successive rounds of down-sizing over the last decade.

BECTU believes that the actual number of redundancies could be higher than 2000 if hundreds more staff opt to leave, rather than accept enforced transfers from London to Salford, and from Birmingham to Bristol, plans which were also outlined on 6 October. The planned closure of Factual production in Birmingham in favour of Bristol has sparked a robust local campaign.

Future pay uncertain too

Those choosing to stay with the BBC will face uncertainty over their future salaries if a revamp of the pay structure goes ahead. Management are hoping to introduce a "market-based" pay system, including performance pay, which will divide the workforce into a series of "job families" with lower starting salaries than the current scheme.

Apart from undermining central pay bargaining for annual increases, the new system will put staff who are in different departments, but who make the same contribution to the BBC's activities, on differing rates of pay. Favouritism and unfairness could also distort pay increases to individual staff.

Today's confirmation of a strike ballot is a response to the BBC's insistence that its planned dates for many of the staff changes should remain in the calendar, making the proposals look more like a fait accompli than the basis for open-minded negotiations between unions and management.

BECTU, NUJ, and Unite, have emphasised that they are willing to conduct meaningful and transparent discussions with the BBC, however they reject the notion that such talks can take place against the threat of  imposed changes.

Negotiators have contrasted the BBC's refusal since 6 October to concede to a reasonable demand to lift the imposition deadlines, with its easy acceptance, over a single weekend last year, of a government-proposed freeze to it licence fee income.

Delivering Quality First, the contested package of job cuts and staff changes, is a direct consequence of the agreement last October which has led the BBC to try to squeeze over 60 per cent of the savings it needs to live on a standstill income out of the staff budget.

Amended 27 October 2011, 10.00.

All related DQF stories.

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