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BECTU challenges BBC on Olympics volunteering plan

The Olympics London 2012 Festival logo The BBC will play a key role in the Olympics London 2012 which will be the centrepiece of a festival running from 21 June - 9 Sepember. Image: London 2012.

20 February 2012

BECTU is insisting that all BBC staff working on the Olympics should be paid after news emerged of management plans to recruit additional effort on the basis that staff either volunteer or take annual leave.

On 13 February Caroline Thomson, chief operating officer, wrote to all Operations Group staff to announce the BBC London 2012 Staff Volunteering Scheme.

BBC seeks staff volunteers

The scheme, which was not discussed with BECTU, offers staff "the chance to apply for volunteering opportunities on many of the BBC's 2012 events and activities across the country in areas such as Radio 1's Hackney Weekend, Music Nation and the Torch Relay."

Ms Thomson's note continues:

"Examples of some of the roles include: BBC Ambassador, Guest Greeter, Receptionist and Runner."

The BBC has identified 500 such opportunities and existing staff are asked to discuss their applications with their line manager before applying. "It's expected that you will volunteer outside your normal working hours or by taking leave," says Ms Thomson.

Roles necessary for output

Helen Ryan, supervisory official for the union's BBC membership, has raised BECTU's concerns formally stating:

" .... we do not believe that it is acceptable for the BBC to look for people to volunteer to work on the Olympics both for free and in their own time. It seems clear from the information on Gateway [the BBC's intranet] that you are seeking people to volunteer for actual jobs for example runners, meeters and greeters, sound supervisors etc.

"It would also seem clear that some of the roles are actually necessary for the output," Helen Ryan continued. Ms Thomson's staff communication clearly states that each of the 12 English regions require support for local output during Torch Relay as it passes through their region.

Writing on 15 February, Helen Ryan submitted a formal request to the BBC for recruitment under the scheme to cease.

"We believe that the BBC should be hiring and paying people to do the work required on the Olympics and that it is completely unacceptable for the BBC to try and get people to volunteer for unpaid work. We are formally asking the BBC to stop seeking volunteers and that this issue is discussed at the NJC [National Joint Council] meeting to be held on 29 February."

The BBC has so far refused to cease recruitment but formal discussions are scheduled for 29 February.

'Yes' to inclusion, 'no' to using BBC staff on the cheap

Helen Ryan, commented further:

"The union's current concerns about the huge principles involved, made more acute by plans for huge job cuts, are only intensified by the BBC's reference to 11, 13 and 14 hour days."

"In one instance the call is for volunteers for 7-day working, with hours from 5am to 7pm."

"BBC staff are a huge and valuable resource and 1000s will be paid to work on the output and will do so with pride and skill. Staff recruited to provide additional operational support, with the same levels of commitment and trust, deserve to be treated in exactly the same manner; they should be paid."

"We are happy  that more staff from across the country are being offered the opportunity to support the BBC's Olympics operations; however inclusion doesn't entitle the BBC to try to use some of its staff on the cheap."

London 2012 is not Children in Need

BECTU is drawing a distinction between the additional effort which the BBC recruits to staff Children in Need which is a registered charity; London 2012 is a commercial venture.

Last October the BBC announced plans to cut 2000 staff jobs and to scale back investment in programmes to save 20 per cent on the BBC's costs by 2017. Read more about Delivering Quality First.


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Updated 17.45, 20 February 2012.

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