Freelance victory at BBC

Freelancers in the BBC's Natural History Unit have won the right for BECTU to bargain on their pay and conditions.

In a postal ballot run under new labour laws governing compulsory union recognition, all but three of the freelancers participating voted for BECTU to represent them.

After a protracted process of legal challenges by the BBC, which ended up in the Appeal Court, ballot papers were sent to 69 freelancers who regularly work for the Bristol-based Natural History Unit. Of the 47 papers returned, 44 were in favour of compulsory union recognition.

The BBC must now open discussions with BECTU about the wording of a formal recognition agreement, which will then allow the union to represent the group in talks about pay, conditions, and other workplace issues.

BECTU has welcomed the outcome of the ballot, not only on behalf of the Bristol freelancers, many of whom belong to the Internation Wildlife Filmmakers Association, but also because it could mean easier union representation for freelancers across the BBC.

Currently the union is seeking formal recognition for other freelancers who routinely work on BBC programmes like EastEnders and Holby City. The BBC now has to choose between its traditional posture of opposing recognition bids by the union, or accept that the legal precedents set by the Bristol campaign mean that BECTU will ultimately win the right to represent freelancers no matter how hard the Corporation resists.

30 April 2004
Amended 2 May 2004