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Fixed term contracts: is the BBC playing fair?

7 November 2009

Union officials who look after members in the BBC are preparing a drive to strengthen the rights of fixed term contract staff.

The action has been prompted by persistent evidence that certain BBC managers are forcing staff to forego continuity of service when the work they are doing is continuing.

I have been shocked by the stories I’ve heard. People are being denied the right to carry on doing work they are good at and which their department values.

To combat the problem BECTU is asking fixed term contract staff to feedback on their current experience. Please complete our online survey.

BECTU has long championed the rights of fixed term contract staff. In the 1990s thousands of fixed term staff found that they were employed on a series of continuous fixed term contracts without the offer of a permanent job.  

Currently, managers in BBC Vision - the section of the corporation responsible for network output - are the most complained about for forcing staff to take breaks between contracts. 

Breaks in service can make staff ineligible for certain contractual rights, such as pensions, maternity leave or redundancy pay. Alternatively, such entitlements can be reduced .

Fixed term contract staff also report anxiety and loss of income, both of which could be avoided, BECTU believes, if the BBC was willing to review its practice.

The BBC rumour mill promotes the notion that a five-week break between contracts is mandatory. There is no such rule in the BBC’s agreements with BECTU.

If such a rule did exist it would be perverse and potentially illegal, suggesting, as it does, a deliberate strategy to deny people service-related employment benefits and contractual rights.

Commenting on the situation, national offficial, Anna Murray, said:

“I have been shocked by the stories I’ve heard. People are being denied the right to carry on doing work they are good at and which their department values. BECTU is going to be writing to Vision departments, asking them to declare their policy on the renewal of fixed term contracts.”

“Some members tell us that a real problem exists and we can help staff if we know the extent of it. The more replies to the survey we have the better the strategy which will result.

"We want to hear from people working at the BBC on fixed term contracts, so that we can understand the patterns, identify any common problems and draw up the best approach."

The survey is open to all fixed term contract staff regardless of union membership.

 

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