Snap ballot on Siemens' BBCT offer

Union members in BBC Technology are being balloted on a new offer from the company hoping to take them over on September 1.

BECTU also plans to give formal notice of industrial action in July and August, which will be taken if members reject the Siemens offer in the postal ballot, as negotiators are recommending.

[At 1300 on July 22 BBC management were given notice of the following industrial action: Friday July 30/Saturday July 31 and Friday August 13/Saturday August 14. Precise times are due to be communicated to members some time before the days concerned.]

The union's decision to conduct a speedy consultative ballot, due to close on July 29, follows advice from lawyers that a new document from Siemens, outlining some guarantees for BBCT staff facing privatisation, would need to be put to a vote of members before planned industrial action could go ahead.

In an earlier ballot which closed on July 9, 84% of participants voted for industrial action over the terms, conditions, job security, and pensions which would apply if Siemens succeeds in buying BBC Technology and its 1400 staff, and the union began planning for strike action.

However, revised proposals covering many of the staffing issues which had caused concern among BBCT members were received by BECTU today, July 21, and the consultative ballot is intended to head off any claim that the union called strike action without Siemens' most recent offer being put to members.

BECTU's negotiating committee is recommending that members should reject Siemens' new package of proposals on the grounds that it falls well short of the union's demand that the company should offer a three-year period of stability, with no changes in contracts and no compulsory redundancies, as well as the creation of a pension scheme that matched exactly the retirement benefits on offer from the BBC.

Read full text of BECTU's response to the revised offer

The union is particularly concerned that Siemens has offered only a one-year guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, while forcing ex-BBCT staff to make a decision about joining the new pension scheme, and transferring their BBC pension into it, long before they know whether they have any future with their new employer.

Since talks began with the BBC on the privatisation plan, BECTU has forecast widespread job cuts once BBC Technology was sold, and Siemens confirmed shortly after being named as preferred bidder in early July that a staff "rationalisation" would take place some time after it took ownership of BBCT.

Although BECTU remains opposed to the sale of BBC Technology, negotiators have met with Siemens' managers in an effort to reach agreement on the treatment of staff if the sale goes ahead, and some guarantees of protection have been offered by the German-owned industrial giant.

But even the new staff package doesn't match the guarantees given to BBC staff in previous privatisation exercises, notably the property deal with Land Securities Trillium which offered a better pension deal to departing BBC staff. The union believes that a decisive rejection of the current Siemens package, followed by industrial action, is the only way to win better protection for BBC Technology staff.

BECTU is also calling for the September 1 target date for BBCT's sell-off to be postponed so that negotiations over staff issues are given enough time to reach an amicable conclusion.

The union, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, has been in contact throughout the last week with the Department of Culture Media and Sport (DCMS) whose Minister, Tessa Jowell, has the power to block the sell-off. Strong representations have been made about the haste with which the BBC is racing towards the September 1 deadline, and a DCMS response to this complaint was expected by the end of this week (July 23).

BECTU's response to Siemens' revised offer on terms for BBC Technology staff

21st July 2004

Ms Gillian Alford
Head of Employee Relations & Policy
Media Centre

Dear Gillian


Thank you for your letter of 19th July regarding the above. The negotiating committee has considered the offer, but is of the view that this falls well short of members' expectations in the event of the sale of BBC Technology Ltd being approved by the DCMS.

As you are aware, the union had been seeking commitments from both the BBC and Siemens in relation to guarantees on pensions, terms and conditions of employment, geographical location, and other associated matters. However, as the offer is significantly different to what was on the table at the time of the industrial action ballot, we are putting this offer out to a consultative ballot of our membership, and this will close at midday on Thursday 29th July. We are, however, recommending members to reject this offer, as we do not believe it gives them the protection they need if their employment is transferred from the BBC to Siemens. The areas where your offer falls short are as follows:

1. Pensions

We welcome the moves that have been made on pensions. However our difficulties on pensions are as follows:

  • Siemens have said there will be no redundancies for one year, but we are realistic enough to know that there will be significant redundancies after Siemens have had an opportunity to review the business. Members could then find themselves in the position where they are being made redundant from Siemens, with pensionable terms less favourable than they would have enjoyed had they remained with the BBC.

    This could happen because members will be required to decide, before the redundancies are identified, whether to transfer their BBC pension to Siemens or whether to become a deferred pensioner at the BBC. Therefore if, as has happened with many other transfers, members elect to leave their pensions at the BBC, but they could find that they have been selected for redundancy and need to draw their BBC pension in order to live, only to find that the BBC pension will be discounted. The fairest way to deal with this for all parties would be for Siemens to avail themselves of a period of participation in the BBC scheme, which I believe can be up to 18 months, by which time members will know whether or not they have a future with Siemens.

  • I am conscious that the union has asked for provisions of the scheme to be guaranteed for three years from the point of sale. However in hindsight we need you to go further, and we would ask Siemens to adopt the same form of words as was agreed with Land Securities Trillium at the time of that transfer: "Subject to over-riding external constraints, Land Securities Trillium do not proposed to review the agreed pension provision for transferring staff unless the BBC also makes future changes to their pension scheme."

  • We still require confirmation that the definition of Final Pensionable Service will be the same as the current BBC scheme.

2. Terms and Conditions of Employment

The letter states that substantive terms and conditions will remain unchanged for one year. By "substantive" the union understands this to mean the Agreed Statements, with the exception of the Agreed Statements listed in page 2 of the letter.

We do not believe that one year is enough protection, and we see no reason why this should not be three years, especially as Siemens have said there was no intention to have wholesale change.

3. Double TUPEs

The union is seeking an assurance that those staff who are transferred to Siemens will not be TUPE transferred to another company throughout the duration of the BBC contract.

4. Geographical Location

We are aware that Siemens are still developing their plans in relation to where members will be working. Regardless of this, we need an assurance that members will not be required to work outside of the city where the BBC employed them at the time of transfer.

Finally, as you know, the union has protested about the amount of time available for negotiations, and this letter, and the points raised above, attempt to highlight the differences between the guarantees offered by Siemens and the expectations of our members.

Further, there are a number of secondary issues on which we have not yet had dialogue but would want assurances that there will be an opportunity to discuss them. Most of these issues either have no financial implications, or very minimal ones.

I would not want the BBC or Siemens to believe that if they were to move on one or two of the above issues that this would resolve the differences between us, because it would not. Most of the matters I have outlined above should not be controversial, and therefore in order to resolve these differences we would expect our claim to be met in its entirety. It would not be our intention to run a further consultative ballot of the membership until such time we felt we had a package we could recommend to our members.

Yours sincerely,

Assistant General Secretary

21 July 2004
Amended 22 July 2004
Amended 23 July 2004