BBC strike action suspended

ACAS talks went on into the night.

ACAS talks went on into the night.

A planned 48-hour stoppage at the BBC has been called off while unions consult members on a new peace offer.

The offer was tabled by BBC management during 20 hours of talks hosted by government conciliation service ACAS on May 26.

Included in the offer are:

  • A one-year moratorium on compulsory redundancies,
  • A framework for discussions which might "mitigate" job cuts in 2006 and 2007,
  • An assurance that by June 10 staff in BBC Broadcast will have clear guarantees from the company's would-be new owners that terms, conditions, and pension rights, would be protected if the company is sold off,
  • The postponement for at least two years of plans to privatise BBC Resources Ltd, including its Outside Broadcast business unit.
Read full BBC offer [79k pdf]

The offer was conditional on unions suspending strike action on May 31 and June 1, and the planned stoppage has been called off.

Union representatives from BECTU, NUJ, and Amicus now plan to meet in London on May 31 to consider the offer, which will be presented by negotiators without any recommendation.

Read press release

If the meeting approves the offer, a full ballot of the three unions' members at the BBC is likely to follow.

Rejection of the offer would lead to the announcement of further dates for industrial action to continue a campaign of stoppages that began with a strike on May 23.

ACAS stepped into the dispute over plans for cuts and privatisation at the BBC after a 24-hour stoppage on May 23, which unions believe was supported by up to 13,000 members.

In the run-up to strike action, the union campaign against the BBC's biggest-ever shake-up had concentrated on four issues: the threat of compulsory redundancies; a 90-day freeze on cuts to allow full discussion of the impact of cuts on the BBC and its staff; a promise that staff facing privatisation or outsourcing would be given protection of terms, conditions, and pension rights; and a call for early publication of plans to make cuts in the BBC World Service and Monitoring.

During discussions at ACAS, which concluded at 6 a.m. today, management offered a number of concessions in response to these union demands, but stopped short of ruling out all compulsory redundancies.

Unions were offered a phased process in which trawls for redundancy volunteers would begin in June, in parallel with union-management negotiations in each division where the viability and impact of local job cuts would be discussed.

The negotiations would cover a local TV pilot in the West Midlands, and a number of other initiatives planned by the BBC's various divisions. Differences would be referred to national level for resolution.

If too few volunteers come forward, management intend to conduct retention or selection exercises to choose staff for compulsory redundancy. However, no one would be forced out until July 1 2006 unless there is mutual agreement between individuals and the BBC.

Management and unions agreed that they had a "vested interest in mitigation and phasing" of cuts and new investment to avoid staff being re-hired after being made redundant.

For staff facing privatisation or outsourcing management offered:

  • Broadcast Ltd staff the expectation that by June 10 the four bidders to buy the wholly-owned subsidiary would be able to satisfy the unions' demands that after any sale members would have access to a final-salary pension scheme comparable to the BBC's, would have a minimum three years' protection of their terms and conditions, including redundancy, and a guarantee that there would be no compulsory redundancies for the first year in private ownership.
  • Resources Ltd staff a promise that their company would not be privatised until June 1 2007 at the earliest, including the Outside Broadcast section which could have been sold off separately. No decision about selling Resources was likely to be made until 2006, and the sale process would not begin until January 1 2007. Management confirmed officially that the company's Costume and Wig section would not be sold, and would instead transfer to the BBC's archive department.
  • Other staff due to be outsourced, mainly in back-office areas, a promise that "best endeavours" would be employed by the BBC to pensions, job-security, terms and conditions are a key part of commercial negotiations with any new employer.

For World Service staff, including Monitoring, management said they were unable to bring forward proposals for change because a review by its funder, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, was still underway, but promised to recommend that they should have the same one-year period of no compulsory redundancies as other BBC staff, from the announcement of their cuts.

Union negotiators made little comment about the offer as they left ACAS in the early hours of May 27, emphasising that any decision on running ballots of members would be made by the meeting of representatives on May 31.

Comments received

First of all, well done! These are significant concessions which would not have been forthcoming without strike action and union negotiators' hard work on our behalf.

The 'revolving door' issues are just common sense and it is one of the worst features of the Thompson plan that it seems to talk of post closures on the one hand and new posts on the other instead of seeing the whole process as a BBC-wide redeployment and retraining issue.

The July 2006 extension is a real gain. Trawls for redundancy would have to have happened in some form; more detail is still needed, though, on what form the 'selection for retention' process will take - i.e. to avoid the worst excesses whereby local management try to get rid of people they identify as 'poor performers', though their performance is often largely a function of what duties management have allocated them, preference having frequently been given to programmes requesting a small number of 'high performers'.

I would personally like to see more detail - any detail - on training, both on what cuts/changes are planned for Training & Development Dept and any other re-training issues. Quite how the BBC hopes to achieve change on such a large scale, with people supposedly having to take on new responsibilities as others leave, without an equally large-scale re-training process, I genuinely don't know.

John, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Well done to the Unions! You have achieved significant concessions and it shows our collective strength.

Anon, BBC staff, Bristol UK 27 May 2005

The BBC's offer mentions redeployment opportunities. BECTU must press the BBC on this issue to give staff in technical roles the earliest opportunity to retrain into more editorially related work. There are many staff in this position that are clearly perfectly able, but are pigeon-holed. Isn't multi-skilling what the BBC wants?

John, BBC staff, Aberdeen UK 27 May 2005

Hopefully the BBC letter is valid as it has a date of 27th May 2007?!

Peter, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Any non-union and those union members who crossed the lines on Monday should see this as a speedy outcome and significant climbdown by Mark Thompson and BBC management (most of whom were not convinced of the methodology of the cuts anyway).

These results were only achieved by full and collective action by union staff - the aforementioned staff who went in should feel embarrassed about what they did on that day - colleagues - go and recruit them (we all know who went in) and accept no lame excuses. It could have been their jobs next.

Each dept. needs strong union representation - don't be complacent and wait for someone else to do the job - volunteer now.

Paul, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Well thats a relief! Perhaps now the publication of the R&D review results would be useful, so that we can start to make some decisions.

Roger, BBC staff, Epsom UK 27 May 2005

I'm NUJ & believe this is a very good offer to appear after just one-day strike action. Obviously it isn't all we would have wanted on the compulsory issue but I believe it's worth accepting at this stage. After all what's to stop us fighting again in a year's time when the compulsories' issue will be a lot clearer by then.

Thank you to all our negotiators who worked so hard over the last 24 hours - you did well, girls and boys!

Jan, BBC staff, Newcastle upon Tyne UK 27 May 2005

Overall this would appear to be a fairly giant leap forward from previous statements. HOWEVER, I am disheartened by following point:

"Other staff due to be outsourced, mainly in back-office areas, a promise that "best endeavours" would be employed by the BBC to pensions, job-security, terms and conditions are a key part of commercial negotiations with any new employer"

Are the members of my department, on the bottom end of the salary scale at 2H, only worth "best endeavours" Are we not all equal? or are some members more equal than others? If this is so I will vote for rejection of the offer.

Mike, BBC staff, Belfast UK 27 May 2005

Well done Unions!! I was on the picket line on Monday, and the result of BECTU talks makes me feel that the money I lost and the risk of exposure with management (I'm just a trainee) have not been wasted. Keep up with the good work!

Simone, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

I'm so proud of what we've achieved. I work in an area with low union membership, and so many of those I work with were defeatist, saying they didn't believe strike action would make any difference. But it did!

This is such a good example of why everyone at the BBC benefits from the work the unions do, and it's sends a clear message of why we need to work to get even more of the BBC to be a part of one of the unions.

CP, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Firstly I feel a huge sense of pride, this for me and for many of my fellow workers the first experience of industrial action. It has been a very emotional time for all of us and working relationships and friendships have been altered and strained.

I salute and congratulate all my fellow Bectu, NUJ and Amicus members and those who bravely did not pass the picket.

Now is the time to recruit new members to the Unions. Collective action is not a spent force and the BBC is a neglectful and belligerent employer prone to managerial whim and vanity.

We are entering a 'Rosenblume' era of the blind leading the naked. There is an ever growing hollow centre at the heart of the BBC called Public Service Broadcasting. Marketing has replaced editorial concerns and the further down the 'target audience' path BBC management take us the easier it will be for the private sector to argue for a targeted licence fee.

It is valid for the BBC to restructure but as everyone who works for them knows it is low paid workers and programme makers that get sacked as management continue on their transparent game of musical chairs, moving and repainting the posts so to speak.

BBC employees are a unique bunch, we are both workers of an organisation and as licence fee payers and consumers stake-holders of that organisation too. This is why it is so important for their to be consultation with staff on every level about the shape and direction of the BBC.

This battle may have been won but the war has not and now is the time to swell the ranks with Union members who will secure descent jobs, excellent conditions and the real future for what could be the best public service broadcaster on the planet.

Jason, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Very well done.

Just one reservation: if we need to go out again I'm worried the impetus may be lost with the deferment of the expected 48 hour stoppage.

And a postscript: people who crossed the picket line - members and non-members - seem to have no shame; some feel their jobs are too important for them to take strike action. I'd like some sort of poster which could draw attention to the work done by our officials and by us for giving up a day's work.

Lorraine, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

I am proud, as all who demonstrated our belief and support for Mondays action, should be.

We have shown that the BBC does still have a meaningful identity as a Public Service Broadcaster that is valued by the people of Britain and not just auctioned off by Mark Thompson.

After all, they are its shareholders and should have a longer term interest in its future than he is likely to have.

Brian, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

So Thompson has finally revealed his 'real' proposals ... let's just assume that his original gambit was only intended to test the water; did he really think that he would get away with it?

It comes to something when over 10,000 people have to go on strike in order to force management to table proposals that are merely unpleasant and un-workable, rather than utterly contradictory and against all reason!

Therefore, I think it may be time to call Thompson's bluff: he obviously thinks that he can defer his inevitable U-turn until June 2006, as he's still clinging to the fantasy that 20% of us will have opted to lose our jobs, or accepted the need for compulsory redundancies, in the mean time.

So let us use all our efforts to prevent management from 'volunteering' people to quit over the next year, and negotiating equal terms for staff in the bits of the Beeb that they want to privatise - which will effectively deter asset strippers, and any other unscrupulous people who think they can make money out of the destruction of the BBC.

Hopefully, Thompson will use the time to come up with some sensible proposals. Or resign!

Richard, BBC staff, Manchester UK 27 May 2005

Significant movement so quickly has to be very good news indeed.

However here in World Service we have yet to learn who faces an uncertain future. All we know is the axe will fall. I was very pleased World Service staff supported colleagues in the rest of the BBC in large numbers. When our battle commences I just hope the rest of the BBC staff continues to support us.

Dave, BBC staff, London UK 27 May 2005

Re Jan of Newcastle's comments: no, I'm not delighted with the outcome. In at least one department in Glasgow the ONLY savings identified for the coming year are redundancies, and leaving it till next year to fight compulsory redundancies will be leaving it too late to help some people who have fought really hard for themselves and their colleagues.

John, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 28 May 2005

As a Retired BBC staffer and ex BECTU member, very well done.

It all recalls a similar campaign by the joint unions some decades ago to "Save our BBC".

But it hasn't ended yet! You must get out there and recruit more members as we did to finally win the day.

Richard, West Midlands UK 29 May 2005

I'm with John, Glasgow. I don't think that this is a good proposal as we will be in just the same position as next year, fighting to stop the BBC being privatised, as that is what it is making nearly 4,000 of us redundant and giving more work to private programme makers, outsourcing of departments. These cuts are sickening.

I feel the joint unions should not have called off the strikes on 31st and 1st as we had the momentum going with the first strike and we should have stayed out for a better proposal ie no compulsory redundancies. We have been marched to the top of the hill and then marched back to the bottom again.

If this is all the BBC can come up with in 20 hours let them stew. Giving up one day's pay for this to be delay a further year is scandalous. If we really want to save the BBC we should at this stage call Management's bluff after all this could have been their plan B and we have just fallen for it.

I say reject the offer and go for 48 hour strike. This is not over yet and hopefully the members will reject this offer.

Dee, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 30 May 2005

While I agree with Dee in Glasgow, that these 'new' proposals by management are probably what they intended to do all along, an immediate 48 hour strike may not be the best way to oppose them.

Management have gambled on two things: that 4000 people will volunteer for redundancy within the next year, and that, in the mean time, they can privatise bits of the BBC (without guarantees of equal terms for transferred staff - as Mike in Belfast has pointed out.)

The first gamble is doomed to failure, and management know that they will have to come up with something better by next year, or face a much tougher series of strikes; if we strike now, management will be able to claim that their 'voluntary redundancy' idea would have worked. Instead, why don't we let them come to the table suitably chastened, in a year's time, when we'll be in a far stronger negotiating position.

Their second gamble is rather more devious, and we need to be prepared to renew the strike action if management's 'best endeavours' fall short of fair treatment. However, if we strike before this happens, then we will undermine our own case, and allow management to claim that they would have negotiated fair terms for privatised staff, if only we'd given them the chance.

Richard, BBC staff, Machester UK 31 May 2005

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27 May 2005
Amended 28 May 2005
Amended 30 May 2005
Amended 31 May 2005
Amended 11 June 2005