Sky votes against recognition

BECTU's fight to represent members at BSkyB will continue despite a poor vote among call centre staff.

Sky employees at the satellite broadcaster's Livingston call centre in Scotland have voted against compulsory union recognition, after a long and acrimonious campaign, but the union has pledged to carry on its efforts to win recognition at Sky's Dunfermline call centre, and the Osterley broadcasting centre.

In a secret postal ballot ordered under union recognition laws, 277 staff voted against BECTU being allowed to bargain on their behalf, with only 47 votes in favour.

The result failed to reflect the support shown for union recognition last year, when more than 50% of the centre's 466 staff signed a petition supporting the union. By the time the recognition ballot began, more than 100 staff at the site had joined BECTU.

Like many other UK unions, BECTU has used new labour laws to force recognition ballots in companies where enough support can be demonstrated among staff. Although the process, culminating in a postal vote overseen by the government-appointed Central Arbitration Commission (CAC), should be straightforward, the run-up to this month's ballot at BSkyB has been chequered by disagreements and counter-allegations between union and management.

Arrangements for the ballot were referred back to the CAC at one point, and BECTU accused BSkyB of intimidating staff with a threat that the call centre would be closed if the vote went in favour of union recognition. Members reported being told by managers that arrangements had already been made to move the centre abroad within weeks if the union won recognition.

Officials believe that the company resorted to crude scare tactics before the ballot began when managers realised that support for the union was growing among staff, and there was a real chance of Livingston being the first union-represented site in BSkyB's UK empire.

The union has pledged to stand by its members in Livingston, who still have rights to be represented in grievance and disciplinary procedures, and will also refine its plans for a recruitment drive in Dunfermline and Osterley. Assistant General Secretary Gerry Morrissey praised the courage and determination of call centre members who had stood up for union recognition, and said: "BSkyB may have won this battle, but they haven't won the war. Their staff have the right to be represented by an independent trade union, and we will press on until recognition has been won."

5 February 2003