Strike action threat at BBC

Unions have called on the BBC to halt a mass redundancy exercise and enter negotiations, or face industrial action.

“The BBC must honour its agreements with the joint unions or face the fact of an immediate industrial action ballot”

A meeting of BECTU, NUJ, and Unite representatives in London today, 18 October, voted to issue an ultimatum to BBC management after hearing details of a cost-saving plan which could cut up to 2,600 jobs.

Unions have threatened to run industrial action ballots if the BBC refuses to suspend the redundancy exercise and enter full negotiations at a senior level. Management have until noon on 19 October to respond.

Representatives at the London meeting heard that officials had been told of 2,600 potential redundancies, along with unilateral changes in allowances and pensions, at an early morning briefing with Director General Mark Thompson.

Unions were told that from January 2008 Unpredictability Allowances for irregular working would no longer be paid to new staff, and from April 2010 staff over 50 being made redundant would no longer be entitled to enhanced pensions.

Management had also given notice that the process of identifying volunteers would begin two days later, before any discussions had taken place with unions about the scale of the cuts package.

Picture of BBC Television Centre

Television Centre, planned to be sold as part of the cuts (Picture: Tony Scott)

Mark Thompson was warned that a premature start to the redundancy process would undermine the management's claimed desire to work constructively with unions on the cuts plan.

Managers have been accused by the unions of ignoring their legal obligation to consult unions before implementing redundancies, and breaking union agreements by giving insufficient notice of the pension and allowances changes.

BECTU Assistant General Secretary Luke Crawley said: "The BBC must honour its agreements with the joint unions or face the fact of an immediate industrial action ballot. It is unacceptable to trawl for volunteers without agreeing a national framework covering the treatment of staff facing redundancy."

The savings which the BBC anticipates from the job cuts are intended to offset a £2.2 billion shortfall in BBC funding over the next six years.

During talks about renewal of the BBC's Royal Charter last year, the Corporation made commitments to introduce new services and extend the range of content available on digital platforms like mobile phones.

Despite welcoming these plans, the government later rejected the BBC's claim for a funding formula which would provide annual increases above the rate of inflation to pay for them.

Under the cuts plan announced today, roughly £700 million will be saved over the next six years though a combination of a reduced wage bill and a £100 million annual cut in TV programme-making.

Even if all these savings were achieved, they would fall £1.5 billion short of the original £2.2 billion spending target, leaving the long list of proposed new services unfunded.

Picture of Gerry Morrissey

BECTU General Secretary Gerry Morrissey interviewed on BBC plans (Picture: Rebecca Wingate-Saul)

Union officials are concerned that the staff who remain after any redundancies would be expected to take on onerous new duties to help deliver the promised new services, leading to stress and illness.

One issue that the unions believe must be settled before the redundancy exercise can begin is a guarantee that there will be opportunities for re-skilling and resettlement for staff threatened with redundancy.

In a previous job cutting exercise which began in 2004 and resulted in over 3,000 post closures, managers were criticised for putting too little effort and imagination into finding alternative employment for redundant staff.

In one area, Childrens' Factual TV, union members took strike action after compulsory redundancy notices were issued, despite the existence of many staff in the same job categories who were willing to volunteer to leave the BBC.

Unions have called for an immediate freeze on recruitment at the BBC to create redeployment opportunities as an alternative to redundancy for threatened staff. Under the new cuts plan, 700 new posts are expected to be created, and unions believe that these should all be available to existing staff who are seeking resettlement.

Officials have emphasised that the unions are willing to negotiate over all aspects of the latest cuts round, but will not hesitate to call for strike action if the BBC refuses to agree to suspend the redundancy process to allow talks to take place.

Letter from Joint BBC Unions to Mike Gooddie, BBC Employee Relations and People Strategy Director

I am writing on behalf of the Joint BBC Unions in relation to the announcement of 2,500 redundancies at the Corporation.

We believe that, given the number of proposed job cuts and the five-year time frame, compulsory redundancies can, and should, be avoided by the BBC.

In failing to consult with the recognised Trade Unions the BBC is in breach of employment legislation and existing union agreements.

A meeting of the joint unions in response to the announcement has passed the following proposition unanimously:

  1. The BBC must agree a national framework which will cover how the divisions will process the redundancies, and crucially, what they will do to assist staff to be retrained and redeployed. Until the national framework is in place, no divisional talks should take place, and the process of consultation should not start. This means that the clock will not start ticking for those either identified or selected for redundancy until agreement is reached on the national framework.
  2. The joint unions will regard it as a hostile act if the BBC starts the process by calling for volunteers before a national framework is in place. The unions require an assurance from the BBC, no later than noon tomorrow October 19th, that no trawl will begin. In the event of the BBC conducting a preference exercise seeking volunteers for redundancy without union agreement, the unions will immediately begin ballots for industrial action.
  3. The agreement from ACAS which provides five months from the date of seletion for staff to allow them to be redeployed expires in March 2008. The BBC needs to extend this agreement long enough to cover all redundancies included in this round of cuts.
  4. There should be an external recruitment freeze for the duration of this round of cuts.
  5. Any new jobs created should be reserved for those at risk of redundancy.
  6. The BBC must provide an agreed financial incentive to divisions to ensure that staff selected for redundancy are redeployed rather than be forced to leave the BBC.
  7. This meeting notes that the Health & Safety Executive has informed the BBC that it is breach of existing laws concerning stress management. The BBC should carry out an immediate stress-specific risk assessment across the BBC to ascertain the impact of the changes on the workers who remain, and should put in place control measures to reduce risk of increased stress to a minimum
  8. The BBC would be in breach of its agreements with the unions by trying to withdraw Unpredictability Allowances without giving the currently-agreed notice period. This is unacceptable, and the BBC should withdraw the threat. The unions would be willing to discuss this at national level, but not against the threat of the allowance being automatically withdrawn in January 2008.
  9. The proposal to withdraw pension augmentation from 2010 also needs to be discussed at national level well in advance of any changes.
  10. Full information on the BBC's proposed spending plans for the next six years should be provided to the Joint Unions, who would welcome an opportunity to discuss them with the Director of Finance.

In view of the Director General's commitment, expressed earlier, to work closely with the Joint Unions on the restructuring plan announced today, I look forward to a positive response.

Luke Crawley, BECTU Assistant General Secretary

BECTU Press Release - 18 October 2007

BBC unions to ballot for strike action over 2,500 job cuts

The BBC unions (BECTU, the NUJ and Unite) today voted unanimously to commence ballots for strike action in the event that the BBC does not agree to a national framework to promote re-skilling rather than redundancy.

This emanates from BBC Director General Mark Thompson's announcement earlier today that the BBC intends to make 2,500 staff redundant. The proposed cuts will mainly affect BBC Vision and News departments. However, he also announced there would be 700 new jobs created.

Under his proposals, the bulk of the redundancies will take place in the first two years and he gave notice to terminate unpredictability allowance (UPA) for all new staff from a date to be agreed early next year. At the same time, he also gave notice that the current preferable discounting arrangements on pensions for staff being made redundant would terminate on 6 April 2010.

Mark Thompson said the 2,500 job losses and the changes to UPA and pensions were necessary to balance the books after a very unsatisfactory licence fee settlement. In addition, he announced the BBC would be spending £100m a year less on original production than is currently the case - equivalent to a 10% cut of its original production budget. In addition there would be less pages on its website and less frequent updating.

Union reaction

Senior representatives from the three joint unions met Mark Thompson prior to him addressing BBC staff. When the proposals were reported back to union reps there was a clear feeling of outrage that the BBC was failing to abide by its national agreements and many members said they felt they were paying for management's incompetence with their jobs. The unions unanimously rejected the BBC's request for divisional talks on the cuts until such time as there is a national framework agreement in place.

BECTU's BBC supervisory official Helen Ryan commented: "We do not believe there can be productive negotiations at divisional level until we have a framework to ensure that wherever you work in the BBC you will be treated fairly and consistently throughout this process."

When confronted on Wednesday morning, Sir Michael Lyons ensured the unions there would be meaningful negotiations on the proposals. However, the unions are now being informed by management that a trawl for voluntary redundancies will begin tomorrow, Friday 19 October. The joint unions have made it clear that this is a provocative act and unless letters to staff are withdrawn before 12 noon tomorrow will lead to an immediate ballot for strike action.

National Framework Agreement

The unions' demands as part of a national framework agreement are principally as follows:

  1. An agreed percentage of all newly created positions are to be given to those staff at risk of redundancy.
  2. Divisions of the BBC are only to be given money from the corporate centre to cover the net number of redundancies, rather than the gross number. Ie., if a department needs to recruit and they choose not to redeploy existing staff, that department will have to fund the extra redundancy costs involved.
  3. The BBC commits to doing a risk assessment of each area including a stress assessment before implementing any redundancies.
  4. No recruiting will occur while redundancies are taking place.

Luke Crawley, BECTU's Assistant General Secretary said: "We are extremely concerned that the pressures on staff left behind will lead to increased stress and strain, which is why we are demanding that the BBC implements a programme of risk assessments before any redundancies take place. Destructive cuts like these will damage programme quality."

Gerry Morrissey, BECTU's General Secretary commented: "We were expecting redundancies as a result of the poor licence fee settlement, but this magnitude is far greater than we expected, or is required. We are concerned that the salami slicing proposed by management will damage quality as well as put unreasonable demands on staff.

"Staff do not want the BBC damaged in this way. Failure to heed these demands will lead to a strike ballot and will receive strong support from staff and the general public."

He concluded: "The Director General today said many fine words about skilling current staff for the future. The demands that we are making of him will prove whether or not his words are just lip service."


Notes to editors:

  1. UPA (Unpredictability Allowance) is an additional shift allowance payment given for working unsociable hours.
  2. Preferable discounting arrangements for pensions govern how much a person will suffer in abatement if they choose to retire early. Under Mark Thompson's proposals, this abatement will be waived if a member of staff is made redundant. [NB: This coincides with the BBC's decision to move the retirement age to 55 from 2010. So, anyone born after 6 April 1960 will not now be able to retire until 55 unless they are prepared to take an abatement.]
18 October 2007
Amended 18 October 2007