the media and entertainment union
a sector of Prospect

7 December 2009

BECTU is to strengthen its support for BBC staff working on fixed terms contracts after a survey revealed that the BBC's management of these contracts can be poor.

The survey of fixed term contract staff shows that when it comes to ending a fixed term contract (FTC), the reasoning offered by management can be unclear, inconsistent and artificial. 

The union's BBC Division invited fixed term contract staff to share their experiences last month; the exercise produced the following feedback:

  •  40% of respondents told BECTU that they do not understand why their contract is for a fixed length because the work they do is continuing;
  •  A third of respondents said their contract was ending although the role was still needed;
  •  Respondents felt there was pressure to end contracts to ‘keep headcount down' and to prevent people accruing service that would increase their employment rights and employee benefits;
  • Nearly 60% said they had faced pressure to ‘take a break’ between contracts, even when there was work available for them. Another 30% said they knew someone this had happened to. They felt the main reason for this was related to length of service, but many had been told ‘it would benefit you to work elsewhere for a bit’.

Transparency is critical to fairness

Many people commented on the lack of transparency about BBC policy and practice.

Anna Murray, national official, said:

"BECTU believes that transparency is critical to delivering fairness. Short-term employees can feel fearful of complaining in case that could prevent them getting future work, so it's essential that the BBC spells out how it will deal fairly with the ending of contracts.

BECTU has a standing commitment to the rights of  FTC staff.

The current review of BBC practice, was prompted by reports of staff unease in BBC Vision, the BBC’s TV production arm. 

"Staffing cuts and peaks and troughs in programme making mean the problems are worst there," explained Anna Murray.

BECTU has reported the results of its survey to the BBC and has requested a meeting with each Vision department for a discussion on BECTU’s Fixed But Fair Charter

BECTU wants fixed term contract staff to appreciate:

  • their entitlement to an objective justification for the use of a FTC
  • that non-renewal of a FTC is a dismissal and can trigger rights in law;
  • that staff are entitled to written reasons for any dismissal;
  • that staff do have the right to appeal against a dismissal.

BECTU officials provide substantial support to union members who want to enforce their contractual and legal rights. To discuss this issue further, BECTU members should contact their local rep in the first instance.