New action in BBC expenses dispute
The work-to-rule over changes in BBC expenses rules is being stepped up.
Members have been told that they can refuse duties away from base if management fail to arrange full payments for accommodation. The union expects that hotel bills will either be paid directly by the BBC, or by individuals being given cash advances.
Additionally, members can also decline location duties if management refuse to authorise in advance full reimbursement for meals that are expected to exceed the new limits of £6 and £10.
Letters have been sent to all BBC members outlining the extension of a work-to-rule that has been running for more than a month, since changes in expenses payments were imposed without agreement.
The new sanctions, which will add to the list of five restrictions that have been in place since the work-to-rule began, were approved after complaints that staff were running out of cash.
Members observing part of the work-to-rule, under which all accommodation should be booked by management, were routinely being put into high-cost hotels, and were also having difficulty winning authorisation for expensive meals.
As a result, many of them were experiencing cashflow problems, exacerbated by the lengthy delays in processing of expenses claims.
In summary, the work-to-rule now consists of:
- Insisting on full one-hour breaks away from base.
- Returning to base for meals when working within 5 miles.
- Refusing to work on location if meals predicted to cost more that the actuality caps are not approved in advance.
- Demanding that management should book all accommodation.
- Refusing to work on location unless management either arrange for direct payment of hotel bills, or provide a sufficient cash advance.
- Late night/early morning transport
- Refusing to use private cars instead of BBC-provided taxis.
- Refusing to communicate with the BBC while off-duty.
Members were expected to impose the new restrictions immediately, after the BBC was given written notice as a courtesy.
Letter to members
26th March 2001
TO: ALL BECTU MEMBERS IN THE BBC
ALL BECTU MEMBERS IN BBC RESOURCES LIMITED
RE: EXPENSES POLICY
As you will be aware, this dispute has now been running for a month, and it is having an impact on how the BBC does business, in particular they are having to schedule around the instructions in order to get work done. In many areas the refusal to be contacted while off duty is causing major headaches to the BBC. The fact that the dispute has wide support amongst members is putting pressure on the BBC to come up with a solution. In order to step up the pressure, the BBC Divisional Committee has decided that a further instruction should be issued:
- Members should inform the BBC that unless accommodation is booked and paid for in advance by the BBC, or a cash advance is provided, then they will not go on location.
- Members should also inform the BBC that if high cost meals on a location are foreseeable then the BBC must authorise staff to break the cap, in advance, or members should refuse to go.
These should be put into practice immediately and should be read alongside the earlier instructions in the letter dated 17th February (web link /news/bbc/nb0135.html#letter).
Some members have asked to step up the action to include strike action. I do not believe that such action would be widely supported at the moment, but in any case we made it clear in the letter with the original ballot that we would not be asking people to take strike action. We would need to hold a second ballot before we could do that.
The purpose of these further actions is to bring home to the BBC that members are very unhappy about having to spend their own money while working for the BBC. They are doubly so when there is either a lengthy delay in repayment or the new capped expenditure limits mean it will not be repaid in full.
In order to publicise the fact that you are taking industrial action when off duty and out of contact with the BBC, you can divert your phone to 020 8914 9747 where callers will receive a message about the dispute.
Amongst the problems that members have raised one of the key issues is having to pay out money for hotel rooms which is then repaid after a delay. If the BBC either books and pays for the accommodation in advance or allows the hotel to invoice them directly, then there should be no need to refuse to go on location. In at least one area of London Operations the management have designated a clerk who will pay for hotels over the phone by credit card. There is no reason why such a system could not be extended to other areas. If you are in a position to authorise your own expenditure, as a producer say, you should do so in a way that means the BBC either pays in advance or is invoiced directly. The principle is that you should not be spending your own money on accommodation and then having to wait to reclaim it from the BBC.
It is worth noting that many members are refusing to accept a BBC credit card, since the failure of the BBC to repay the money quickly, and so allow the balance to be cleared, affects the individual's credit rating.
As a result of comments made by the BBC during negotiations and subsequently, we are currently researching the tax position of the BBC, and Andy Egan, our Research Officer, is looking into the tax law that surrounds this issue.
I should point out that the NUJ is still considering what position to adopt and, through the NJC, has requested a meeting with the BBC. Even though we remain in dispute with the BBC and have not sought a meeting, we would attend if such a meeting takes place.
In the meantime, you should stick to the instructions issued and make life as difficult as possible for the BBC until they decide they have a better offer to make and ask for a meeting.
In addition to the above, if you work in London Operations, don't forget that you are still in dispute on the issue of working time and the instruction issued by BECTU is still valid. The full text of this instruction is on the BECTU website at www.bectu.org.uk/news/bbc/nb0078.html.
Briefly, the actions not already included in the present dispute are that you should take one day off after six days' work, work an average of 48 hours per week over any 17 week period, no "special case" derogations, standby to be treated as working time and no individual opt-outs.