Unions threaten strike over BBC cuts

BECTU, NUJ, and Amicus, plan to ballot BBC members for industrial action if the management press ahead with redundancies.

The unions have called for a three month pause in DG Mark Thompson's plans to cut almost 4000 jobs in the Corporation, and will run a ballot if the demand is rejected.

Union representatives meeting in London
Union representatives in London today
BBC management have also been asked to give a guarantee that there will be no compulsory redundancies as a result of Thompson's reorganisation, and that pay, conditions, and pensions should be protected for any staff who are outsourced to new employers.

Union representatives from all parts of the BBC met in London today, March 23, and condemned the programme of job cuts announced by Mark Thompson two days earlier. They set a deadline of April 4 for the BBC to accept their demand for a three month moratorium on cuts.

Unions are due to meet senior BBC management on March 24 to deliver their ultimatum.

Thompson's plans - described by unions as the Corporation's worst-ever cuts - are based on a 15% budget reduction in most BBC Divisions, a 60% increase in use of independent producers, and the halving of back office jobs in professional services areas which was announced on March 10.

The latest round of cuts was announced on March 21, barely a week after publication of a government Green Paper on the future of the BBC, laying out an ambitious vision in which the Corporation would do the lion's share of work needed to switch TV viewers from analogue to digital equipment, and would launch new services for the public.

However, unions fear that the planned job cuts are so severe that the BBC will be unable to rise to the challenge set by government, and have predicted that staff who escape redundancy will be faced with an impossible workload in future.

Speakers at the London meeting condemned the cuts as "savage and brutal", and accused the BBC of sacrificing thousands of staff for political rather than economic purposes.

Gerry Morrissey, BECTU's Assistant General Secretary, said: "Mark Thompson is out of touch, and has lost the confidence of his staff. If the BBC fails to consult properly, and presses ahead with compulsory redundancies and privatisation, the unions will lead their members out of the door."

Managers are under pressure to deliver savings as soon as possible - in part to help pay off the BBC's overdraft by the end of 2006 - and have indicated that, although Thompson's plan is phased over the next three years, they would like to begin implementing redundancies in the next few months.

The demand for a three-month moratorium on cuts is intended to protect staff under the threat of imminent redundancy, and allow full discussion of whether or not the BBC will be able to function after nearly 4000 staff are sacked.

Unions have advised members not to cooperate with the cuts until further notice, and to refuse to participate in any "preference" exercises in which staff are asked whether they might want to accept voluntary redundancy.

Many staff, especially programme-makers and middle-managers,will have to take on extra work once finance and human resources have been cut back by up to 50%, and unions want an opportunity to discuss the viability of this change.

"Thompson's entire strategy is based on more pressure for staff who survive redundancy", said BECTU official Luke Crawley, "but they simply won't have the time or training to cover for the thousands of seats that will be empty if these cuts go through".

Union representatives at the March 23 meeting reported that members would not be willing to accept extra work that had previously been done by colleagues who had been TUPE-transferred out of other departments or made redundant.

If an industrial action ballot is run it will involve members of all three staff unions across the BBC, and BECTU is also taking legal advice on the possibility of simultaneous ballots in BBC Broadcast and BBC Resources, two wholly-owned subsidiaries threatened with privatisation by Thompson.

Text of demands to BBC adopted by meeting of BECTU, NUJ, and Amicus representatives on March 23 2005.

The BBC's joint unions strongly condemn Mark Thompson's outrageous, politically motivated cuts, which fundamentally damage the BBC.

The BBC Unions - BECTU, NUJ, and Amicus - who met on 23rd March will put the following to the BBC:

Before any negotiations can proceed the BBC must agree to the following:

  1. A 90 day moratorium on any further attempts to progress the redundancies at any level, including attempts to identify volunteers. During the period of the moratorium, existing staffing levels must be maintained, including the extension of all fixed term contracts, and filling in behind attachments. In the meantime the BBC must begin meaningful consultation with the Joint Unions about why these post closures are necessary. This must include discussions on the future shape of the Corporation and a detailed explanation of how the BBC expects the existing level of work to be done in the future with 3780 fewer staff.
  2. No compulsory redundancies. Any post closures must be achieved by natural wastage and voluntarism only, with no right for the management to pick and choose who should go. Any reduction in staffing levels must not result in increased workload for staff who. The phasing of any redundancies should be changed, and a comprehensive redeployment package should be agreed to minimise any job losses and provide the maximum opportunity for retraining existing staff.
  3. We are opposed to outsourcing of our members's jobs, but if it is to go ahead then the BBC must agree to write into all tender documents protection of terms, conditions, pensions and employment, no less favourable than those agreed for the sale of BBC Technology to Siemens.
  4. We call on the BBC to bring forward their proposals for the future of the global news division including World Service, Monitoring, and BBC World.

We expect a positive response from the BBC by Monday 4th April. Failing that we will register a failure to agree and move to an industrial action ballot.

23rd March 2005

Comments received

Clearly the government & management intend to destroy the BBC, whether the results of their actions are intentional or due to lack of vision is now irrelevant. It's going to be painful & expensive for us, but that only leaves the staff to fight for the BBC.

John, BBC staff, London UK 23 March 2005

Fully support your stand against obviously politically motivated cuts. As a previous license payer I can only say the current cuts are unwanted and appear to be "punishment" for the way the Iraq decision was handled.

Donald, Göteborg Sweden 23 March 2005

Lets have a much bigger comments section so that everyone can guage the strength of feeling and safety in numbers.

Anonymous, BBC staff, London UK 24 March 2005

Mark Thompson has bitten off far more than he can chew. I predict the shortest DG tenure in BBC history unless he makes considerable compromises. If he does not and he seems the same kind of 'macho' twit as John Birt I'll be surprised if he lasts beyond the end of summer.

Alan, BBC, London UK 24 March 2005

Why can't we have industrial action when it matters most, ie 5th May - the day of the General Election - surely that would create a big impact both with the politicians and the public at large. We need to get our message over that we are not going to take this lying down and we need to hit the BBC were it hurts most. After the General Election it will be too late.

Deirdre, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 24 March 2005

A recent letter in Ariel asked whether more damage had been done to the BBC by external or internal forces in the last ten years. I think we've got the answer.

Peter, BBC staff, London UK 24 March 2005

It seems that some modernisation within the BBC is necessary but given the failure of ITV digital, the responsibility for the national switch over from analogue to digital has fallen predominantly at the feet of the BBC.

The proposed cuts raise perhaps serious question marks about the BBC's future capability to deliver what is already a government commitment that has had to be restructured/rescheduled.

Perhaps a little poker faced patience is in order but it seems the new management have already committed themselves to total compliance with extensive cutbacks.

Is it possible for these cutbacks to be downsized without the management being comprehensively compromised?

Luke, BBC staff, Manchester UK 24 March 2005

From the humiliation last year when the BBC buckled under government pressure, to the outrageous insult that newcomer Thompson throws at thousands of long-standing staff, these are sad days not just for the BBC but for British broadcasting history.

If the BBC goes through with these redundancies it will be lucky if it has any programmes or output left, as many others will no doubt resign in disgust.

Natalie, BBC staff, London UK 24 March 2005

As a former BECTU member, I thought I would just leave a brief message of support for those BECTU members affected by the corporate lunacy of Thompson. Best wishes in your endeavours.

Patrick, Liverpool UK 29 March 2005

It looks like the vision of Margaret Thatcher and John Birt has finally started to come to fruition. Where they did not succeed in the carving up and selling off of the BBC, Blair, Dyke and Thompson are doing exactly that. It will not be long before the BBC is a facilities house where all it will do is buy in its programmes no matter which government is elected in to government. So much for the BBC values.

Sam, BBC staff, Belfast, Northern Ireland UK 30 March 2005

Comments are no longer being accepted for this item.

23 March 2005
Amended 24 March 2005
Amended 29 March 2005
Amended 30 March 2005
Amended 25 May 2005