BBC peace offer goes to ballot

May 23 - strikers in front of the camera for a change at Norwich

May 23 - strikers in front of the camera for a change at Norwich

BECTU plans to run a consultative ballot of BBC members on a package tabled at ACAS after the May 23 strike.

The package includes a promise of no compulsory redundancies until July 2006, a commitment to protection of terms and pensions for staff affected by the privatisation of BBC Broadcast, and a two-year halt to the sale of BBC Resources.

Officials announced that a ballot would be run just a day after BBC Director-General Mark Thompson agreed to a framework for future discussions on his plan for 4,000 job cuts, which had been a main factor behind the one-day strike in May.

In face-to-face talks with the DG on June 8, officials from BECTU, journalists' union NUJ, and Amicus, agreed (subject to members accepting the ACAS formula) to allow trawls for redundancy volunteers in areas hit by job cuts, in return for divisional-level negotiations on the scale of the cuts, and the impact on staff who remain.

Read letter from BBC following June 8 talks

The discussions were held at the request of unions following all-night talks at ACAS in late May which resulted in a peace formula, but left officials and members with concerns about the "scale and impact" of redundancies.

At ACAS the BBC had tabled an offer which included a promise of no compulsory redundancies before July 2006, and a framework for discussion of detailed plans for cuts within each of the BBC's 14 divisions.

Thompson confirmed at the June 8 discussions that he was willing to meet the unions again before the end of the year to review the outcome of the divisional talks on job cuts, and acknowledged that the avoidance of compulsory redundancies was high on the unions' agenda.

BECTU's response to further talks with Mark Thompson

  • Consultative ballot of members on ACAS offer
  • But no ballot until assurances to BBC Broadcast are confirmed
  • Trawls for redundancy volunteers begin if offer is accepted
  • Divisional level talks on scale and impact of job cuts
  • Another meeting with Mark Thompson once divisional talks conclude
  • Industrial action suspended for now, but could be resumed in response to compulsory redundancies
  • Work-to-rule protests threatened if job cuts are too deep
Industrial action has been suspended to allow the volunteers' trawl and the promised divisional-level discussions, but could be resumed with seven days notice if any attempt was made to impose compulsory redundancies.

To deal with members' concerns that too many redundancies could put an extra burden on staff who remain working for the BBC, unions gave the BBC notice that work-to-rule protests could be organised if managers release too many volunteers.

BECTU has to run three separate ballots of members, to cover the BBC itself, and the two subsidiaries threatened with privatisation - BBC Broadcast and BBC Resources - where members joined the strike action on May 23.

Read BECTU press release

Ballot papers will not, however, be sent out until the BBC has officially confirmed that staff in BBC Broadcast have guarantees that, if their company is sold, there will be no changes in terms and conditions for three years, no compulsory redundancies for 12 months, and access for current staff to a final salary pension scheme broadly comparable to the BBC's own.

The sale of BBC Broadcast is well-advanced, and the BBC has already reduced the long list of interested buyers to a shortlist of only four companies.

For staff in Resources, which was also marked down for privatisation when Mark Thompson announced his new vision for the BBC in December 2004, the BBC is offering that there should be no sell-off, wholly or in part, until July 2007 at the earliest, and has also confirmed that if the ACAS package is accepted, the process of preparing for a sale will be abandoned completely until January 2007.

BECTU hopes to conclude its ballots by the end of June, and will be recommending that members should accept the BBC's ACAS offer, with the subsequent qualifications from the DG, as the best outcome that can be achieved without further, and potentially extended, industrial action.

The two smaller BBC unions are likely to ballot their members on the offer, although the NUJ journalists' union has reported that it plans a meeting of representatives on June 15 before proceeding.

Letter to unions following renewed talks with BBC Director-General on offer to settle dispute over cuts and privatisation

9th June 2005

Mr L Crawley
373-377 Clapham Road London

Dear Luke


I am writing to confirm the BBC's position and the framework we discussed at yesterday's meeting between the full time officials and Mark Thompson.

The BBC's conditional offer made at ACAS (attached) remains entirely unchanged. Nonetheless, we believe it was a useful meeting to discuss and clarify the process going forward and to confirm that we are working on the premise that we will operate within our existing Procedure Agreement throughout. We also discussed yesterday our joint concerns about timescales going forward.

The joint unions raised a number of concerns about the opportunity to have meaningful consultation at Divisional Level and the process for escalating any issues. As we discussed at the meeting, should the joint unions accept the ACAS offer, the BBC confirms:

  • Divisional meetings and trawls for volunteers (as described in the attached letter) will take place simultaneously. Divisional trawls will take place after the unions have had a chance to consult their members on the ACAS offer and the Division has tabled their proposal to the unions. All parties supported the principle that trawls should be undertaken as soon as possible in order to release savings which could help with the possible future mitigation of compulsory redundancies.

  • Should there be a 'failure to agree' on any specific issue within a Divisional change plan, the matter in dispute can be referred to the National level as per our existing Procedure Agreement.

  • Although we believe that all issues relating to the change programme can and should be resolved within our normal agreed procedures, we are happy to agree that there should be one further meeting between the full time officials and Mark Thompson before the end of the year to discuss progress. We agreed that we would try to convene the meeting within 2 weeks of a request from the joint trades unions.

The BBC appreciates that, given their content and scope, the Divisional change plans represent some difficult challenges for the unions and the staff. The BBC has every intention of meeting its legal and union agreement obligations and we believe that the above framework gives all parties a workable structure for ensuring there is detailed consideration of the proposed changes at the appropriate level.

I look forward to receiving the joint unions' response.

This letter has been sent to all three recognised trades unions.

Yours sincerely,

Gillian Alford
Head of Employee Relations and Policy,
BBC People




BECTU, as a democratic union, will be balloting its members on this latest offer from the BBC and in the meantime further strike action is suspended. Following yesterday's meeting with Director-General Mark Thompson, the BBC has conceded a further meeting before the end of the year. This will be at the same level and will take an overview of the whole process.

In the meantime if the offer is accepted by the Joint Unions, then divisional level talks can begin immediately and the trawl for volunteers will run in parallel to those talks.

The meeting clarified that disagreements in the divisional level talks could be referred back to national level and the Joint Unions made it clear that if the numbers of volunteers that were allowed to go placed an unacceptable workload upon their members, then they would instruct their members to begin a 'work to rule' and refuse additional duties. If the divisional level talks resulted in compulsory redundancies then strike action could be re-started within 7 days.

BECTU will not begin to ballot its members until the BBC has provided written guarantees to protect its members in BBC Broadcast Ltd who are facing a possible sale. BECTU will also be balloting its members in BBC Resources Ltd where the threat of a possible sale has been withdrawn for two years.


For further details contact Luke Crawley: 020 7346 0900 or: 07736 058720

Comments received

I'm sorry but this all sounds so weak. I thought we had said that it is impossible to trawl for volunteers until we know the conditions people are being asked to work under.

And how many compulsory redundancies will be needed to restart strike action? One? One thousand?

Rob, BBC staff, Nottingham UK 9 June 2005

All BBC should be given the same guarantees on the future, not just BBC Resources and BBC Broadcast.

That is, in the event of any sell-offs or outsourcing, everybody be guaranteed their Terms and Conditions for a minimum of 3 years and no compulsory redundancies for at least 12 months and also have access to a Pension comparable to the BBC's. This would make everyone a lot more secure for the future.

Gary, BBC staff, Belfast 9 June 2005

Does this agreement extend to those staff cuts that are to take place within the second and third year ? i.e. will there be trawls in those years as well if required?

Because let's not forget that the agreement on voluntary redundancies as it stands at this time means that in each case the notice period has also to have expired by July 2006 which means people getting their notice to quit in only 6 months and so only allows 6 months to trawl for the cuts required in the first year.

This also means that were people get the option to work their notice or take payment in lieu those people left behind may start to feel the pinch sooner than they may have expected.

Roy, BBC staff, London UK 9 June 2005

So, job cuts go ahead.

Selling off BBC Broadcast and Resources goes ahead.

Remind me what we striked for?

Alex, BBC staff, London UK 9 June 2005

I'm with Gary on this. The BBC should have one set of proposals which they give to all prospective "partners" and they should negotiate those proposals with their staff first. If the BBCT conditions applied to everyone rather than their "Best endeavours" there would not be a rush to buy up the BBC's "family silver".

Willis, BBC staff, Belfast UK 9 June 2005

The unions have achieved significant concessions.

It is sensible to take stock and put these issues back to the members.

In trying to second guess the government in order to secure the charter, Mark Thompson rushed into some half-baked and half-finished ideas. He now knows that the BBC's workforce will not be browbeaten for a few good headlines in the Daily Mail.

It's more important now than ever that we develop a fully unionised workforce, and bring Thompson et al to account to protect our jobs and what the BBC has always stood for.

Phil, BBC staff, London UK 10 June 2005

I would say that we are on the verge of letting the worlds most respected and envied broadcaster go down the tubes. This 'deal' is not a deal at all, management must be laughing at us for accepting it, too much has been given away already, if we are going to fight for our BBC then it needs to be now, not later.

Incidentally, why are we getting so worked up about broadcast being sold?, the individuals working within it obviously don't care with only 30% of them on strike.

Martin, BBC staff, Belfast UK 10 June 2005

I agree with Gary from Belfast. I thought I'd gone on strike to support the threat of redundancies and outsourcing right across the BBC. I was pretty disappointed to find that the situation of my own division, BBC People, apparently wasn't even on the agenda. United we stand, divided we fall.

Andy, BBC staff, Cardiff UK 10 June 2005

I am concerned that I may now be asked to work here longer than I wish in order to receive redundancy pay. Ideally I would have some control and say in when I should leave. It is likely I will be ready to leave (i.e. I'll have found another job or career move) earlier than my department is ready to let me go.

As I have been at the BBC for over 9 years, this leaves me in a difficult position regarding redundancy pay. In theory, could I could be "incentivised" (i.e. redundancy only offered at the final stage) to stay until July 2006 if my department wants to keep me around to support and set up their new structure?

Neil, BBC staff, London UK 10 June 2005

One day of strike brought BBC management to the table: so far, so good. Now we need to make good on that pressure, and force retreat, particularly on redundancies. It's clear to any disinterested observer that the UK independent sector cannot develop, train for, create or produce public service broadcasting at the same level as the BBC.

The governors and Mark Thompson have been indulging themselves with management consultants, the ultimate in dilettantism.

F, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 10 June 2005

I agree with Alex 100%, isn't this what we went on strike for in the first place? So they're now proposing to delay things for a year. Yet we are still facing one of the most severe attacks on public service broadcasting. Can our union leadership not see that this is a ploy by management to diffuse the mood for strike action?

We had a a very good one day strike and a momentum for strike action had built up as a result of it. Had we gone on strike again soon after (especially for more than just one day) we would have had more staff on strike and truly brought management to their knees and force them to stop all proposed job cuts and privatisation.

Balloting members just means more delays and losing the mood for strike action that we have worked so hard to build.

I for one will be voting NO to these proposals and for more strike action.

Somaye, BBC staff, London UK 11 June 2005

"Incidentally, why are we getting so worked up about broadcast being sold?, the individuals working within it obviously don't care with only 30% of them on strike. - Martin, BBC staff, Belfast UK 10 June 2005."

The BBC Broadcast strike was called as "The BBC is in the process of selling us and have the ability to write our demands into the sale documents - we are asking they do that to protect us, but at the moment they won't." And, after the Strike, they still have not. It was therefore not a strike about the rescinding of the sale.

Before the strike day, and at least since 05 May 2005, the Union's demands have been presented to the potential purchasers 'alongside' the BBC Information Memorandum.

Now, BBC Broadcast staff now await "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".

Andrew, BBC staff, London UK 12 June 2005

We voted for strike action for a reason and I don't believe that we have been listened too!

The offer has gained us nothing - what was the point - the point was we wanted jobs to be saved and parts of the bbc to remain parts of the bbc, people are still loosing there jobs and sell offs are still happening. This is not what we want!

I will be voting against these proposals and for more strike action.

Amy, BBC staff, London UK 13 June 2005

"The BBC's conditional offer made at ACAS remains entirely unchanged." These people need to learn how to negotiate. Not only are they not offering anything to the BBC staff (as opposed to Broadcast), but they are threatening to withdraw the offer too. They have to be shown that such blackmail is not acceptable and that the BBC workforce will not yield to it.

F, BBC staff, Glasgow UK 13 June 2005

I have come across a lot of confusion about the BBC's "offer" that there will be "no compulsory redundancies before July 2006".

This does not mean that people who have already been told that their jobs will go are suddenly safe or even that the decision will be delayed. It just means they will have a year to pack their desk rather than 6 months.

Great for morale, great for creativity, and great for the BBC.

I agree with Somaye and Amy, and will be voting NO in the ballot

Rob, BBC staff, Nottingham UK 16 June 2005

Our branch swelled by 71% with people joining to protest against the cuts through strike action. They did this because they believe in a strong cohesive BBC serving the public. I'm having difficulty now explaining to them what has been gained and they wonder why they joined.

John, BBC staff, Aberdeen UK 20 June 2005

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9 June 2005
Amended 9 June 2005
Amended 10 June 2005
Amended 11 June 2005
Amended 12 June 2005
Amended 13 June 2005
Amended 16 June 2005
Amended 12 July 2005