BBC journalists and technicians set to strike Thursday – over job cuts, workloads and harassment

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NUJ members on the picket line during their strike at the BBC in Great Portland Street last month
NUJ members on the picket line during their strike at the BBC in Great Portland Street last month

BBC journalists and technicians are set to strike for 12 hours on from midday to midnight this Thursday, 28 March.

BBC Easter programmes will be disrupted as the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has voted for strike action over compulsory redundancies, excessive workloads, and bullying and harassment within the corporation.

The joint 12-hour strike with broadcasting union BECTU will see BBC workers will leave their offices and studios, led by their union leaders, in action that will disrupt the Bank Holiday schedule.

The action is a consequence of the BBC’s so-called Delivering Quality First (DQF) initiative, a cost-cutting programme which will result in the loss of 2,000 jobs across the corporation.

All NUJ members are observing a work to rule and this will be extended to BECTU members.

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: ‘Members are taking strike action next week in a clear message to the BBC that it needs to listen to its staff and properly address the problems created by their ill-conceived and badly implemented cuts programme.

‘It is disappointing that once again the BBC has decided not to properly engage, refusing our call for a moratorium to give space for meaningful discussions on the worrying impact of the cuts.

‘BBC executives know they’ve got a major problem on their hands – the recent investigation into bullying and harassment has lifted the lid on a problem that has been allowed to grow to shocking levels, under the noses of senior executives supposed to be responsible for upholding “BBC values”.

‘We hope the forthcoming Respect at Work report will be a positive step forward in tackling a problem that has become institutionalised – but it’s hard to believe that there’s a real commitment to change when we’re seeing cases of people who have been targeted, bullied and unfairly picked off being rushed out of the door.

‘Compulsory redundancies being pushed through at the same time as jobs are being advertised externally is not just bad management, it’s a waste of licence fee money.

‘The BBC is adamant that the cuts are having no impact on quality.

‘NUJ members know this is bunkum – they are the ones dealing with the real impact of cuts that have been targeted directly at frontline programming, they can see that corners are being cut, that staff are being put under huge pressure to deliver with fewer resources, and inevitably quality journalism is compromised.

‘Calling their package of 20 per cent cuts Delivering Quality First was always a nonsense and an insult – and it is becoming clearer every day that the cuts, which are being badly implemented from the top, are diminishing quality journalism at our public service broadcaster.’

The NUJ provided a dossier of evidence to the BBC’s review of its policies and processes relating to bullying and harassment, a process headed by Dinah Rose QC.

The request for confidential evidence by the NUJ resulted in a huge response from BBC journalists past and present.

It revealed a ‘shocking’ picture of widespread and entrenched bullying and harassment, alongside a sustained failure by BBC management to deal with the perpetrators. It is clear that whilst the problem is an entrenched one, it has worsened in the wake of the cuts taking place.

This week’s action follows a one-day strike by NUJ members last month over compulsory redundancies – action which resulted in a range of flagship programmes, such as Radio 4’s Today and Breakfast TV, being pulled off the air.

The NUJ vote was 61.2 per cent for strike action and 79.9 per cent for action short of a strike.

The BBC has refused the unions’ call for a six-month moratorium to discuss the impact of the DQF cuts and the BBC’s failure in parts of the organisation to put in place an agreed redeployment scheme. Tony Hall, the new director general is due to take up his post in April.

Under Delivering Quality First, the BBC will cut its budget by 20 per cent, resulting in 2,000 job losses, many from core programming. The BBC has already lost more than 7,000 jobs since 2004.

This is because former director general Mark Thompson agreed to freeze the BBC licence until 2017 while taking on an extra £340m in spending commitments, including the World Service and roll-out of fast broadband.

In a ballot which closed on Wednesday (20 March) BECTU members voted by a majority of 56 per cent to 44 per cent to take strike action to address the slump in staff morale caused by more workplace demands.

The majority vote for action short of strike was even more decisive with 81 per cent of members voting in favour compared to 19 per cent voting against. Participation in the ballot was 39 per cent of eligible members.

BECTU general secretary Gerry Morrissey said: ‘BBC staff have rejected management’s attempts to create a modern day BBC sweatshop. Current demands on staff are unacceptable and with more job cuts planned it’s essential that the BBC takes stock of the impact of DQF on its operations.’

The 12-hour walkout on Thursday will coincide with the start of an indefinite work-to-rule which will frustrate the BBC’s operations within a short space of time.

Elements of the work-to-rule are likely to focus on a maximum 12 hour day, a minimum break of 11 hours between turns of duty and enforcement of meal breaks.

BECTU said that in the past year post closures announced under DQF have been close to 1,350.

The consequences of this BBC-wide restructuring have been reports of increased pressure on staff to work late and to work more hours to complete assignments.

BECTU has been told that team leaders are under instruction to increase productivity.

Two recent BECTU surveys – the Respect and Dignity at Work survey conducted last December and a survey of staff on fixed term contracts conducted last summer – point to increased workloads and the negative effects of short-staffing.

Meanwhile, of the more than 500 current BBC staff who took part in the union’s survey into Respect and Dignity at Work at the end of 2012, more than 200 took the opportunity to expand upon their experience of bullying, sexual harassment and discrimination.

Verbal abuse and humiliation by colleagues were repeatedly cited, as were references to bullying and intimidation and aggression by seniors.

BECTU submitted a report, drawing on its reps’ experiences of the workplace culture and including observations drawn from the union’s own survey, to the Respect at Work review led by Dinah Rose QC which is expected to report shortly.

BECTU general secretary, Morrissey said: ‘Staff concerns about overwork and bullying and harassment are genuine and it’s clear to us that any manager who tries to dismiss these concerns is out of touch.

‘Staff at all levels in the BBC are under acute pressure to deliver and the simple truth is that workloads are beginning to take their toll on staff well-being.

‘We believe that the BBC needs to take stock of the impact of cuts under DQF and that time has come. For this assessment to be genuine all redundancies have to be put on hold, and sadly our members have been forced into a strike ballot to press their case.’

Helen Ryan, supervisory official said: ‘BBC members across the country have voted for a campaign of industrial action in protest at the current management regime which is asking staff to compromise their well-being on several levels. Contrary to earlier statements, management is forcing the burden of DQF onto staff and some staff are now close to breaking point.’