BBC pay fight looms

BBC staff in a joint picket by the NUJ, BECTU and Amicus unions during the strike action in 2006
BBC staff in a joint picket by the NUJ, BECTU and Amicus unions during the strike action in 2006

The BBC has expressed ‘surprise’ at the claim by its recognised unions for an increase of £1800 per person from August 1, broadcasting union BECTU said on Thursday.

The BBC’s response to the claim, submitted jointly by BECTU, the NUJ and Unite two weeks ago, draws attention to the substantial effects of the economic downturn, not only on the media but on other parts of industry.

Writing to the joint unions, Mike Goodie, the BBC’s Employee Relations and People Strategy Director, states: ‘I have to be candid that against this background, we were very surprised to receive your claim for an uplift of £1,800 per person, effectively an increase of 6 per cent.

‘This claim would add £51 million to our cost base, which is not only unaffordable but would be inexplicable to the general public.’

BECTU’s BBC Supervisory Official, Helen Ryan, anticipated the BBC’s response when she explained that BBC staff were keen not to find themselves even worse off in the next review period, given two years of below inflation rises and the prospect of increased pension costs.

‘Our members identify the 0.75 per cent increase in pensions contributions due on April 1 as a pay cut – especially given the rumours that the BBC may be intending not to increase its own employer contributions,’ Ryan explained.

‘The loss of disposable income, coupled with a below-inflation increase last year and the additional pressures which staff face due to massive job cuts, deserve a more positive response from the BBC,’ said Ryan.

‘That said, looking forward to future talks, the BBC does appear to agree with the joint unions, that this year’s review needs to be closely focussed on the needs of the Corporation’s lowest paid staff,’ Ryan said.

Quoting the BBC’s Director-General, Mark Thompson, Mike Goodie explained, ‘The Director-General has made it clear to managers and to staff that he believes the small amount available for any settlement should be weighted towards the lowest paid.’

In addition to the claim for a flat-rate increase of £1,800, the joint unions have also called on the BBC to make a specific commitment to job security by declaring no further redundancy proposals for the 12 months from August 2009.

Pensions will be a key factor in this year’s negotiations given the BBC’s determination to increase staff contributions by 0.75 per cent in April 2009, with a further increase of 0.75 per cent to follow in April 2010.

The joint unions have asked the BBC to defer the increases in light of the constraints on BBC staff; a specific meeting on pensions has been requested by the end of this month.

The joint unions will be meeting again to discuss the pay claim.

Union officials in BBC Resources Ltd have submitted the same claim to Resources management as has been submitted in the BBC.

Union representatives in BBC Worldwide were finalising their pay claim this week.

BECTU submitted its pay claim for 2009-10 on behalf of its BBC membership last Wednesday, January 28.

The claim was agreed by the BBC’s three recognised unions, BECTU, the NUJ and Unite, and it was agreed that negotiations with the BBC’s management would be conducted jointly.

This year’s claim seeks an across the board increase for all staff of £1,800.

The decision to submit a claim for a flat-rate increase is intended to provide greatest assistance to the BBC’s lower paid staff.

The claim, set out in a letter from BBC Supervisory Official, Helen Ryan, to the BBC’s Employee Relations and People Strategy Director, Mike Goodie, says: ‘Even though the BBC licence fee settlement is less than what the joint unions or the BBC would have wanted, it is however a guaranteed income that will increase this year by two per cent.’

The claim follows the BBC’s announcement on Tuesday, Janary 27, that a pay freeze is to be imposed on senior management salaries for 2009/10 and that, in addition, no bonuses will be paid.

In reply, BECTU said that the BBC’s decision on how it will treat its managers would not inhibit the union in pressing its case for a pay award for staff for the 12 months from August 1, 2009.

Last year BBC staff received a two per cent pay award when inflation was running at four per cent; in addition there are plans to increase employee contributions to the final salary pension scheme by 0.75 per cent in April 2009 and by a further 0.75 per cent in April 2010.

‘The combined effect of the below-inflation pay award and the proposed increases to pension contributions will leave our members at least 3.5 per cent worse off financially than they were prior to the August 2008 pay award,’ explained Ryan.

In addition to the flat-rate increase of £1,800, the joint unions are seeking a proportionate increase in staff allowances.

The unions are also urging the BBC to sign up to a job security agreement for at least 12 months given the significant number of jobs which the BBC has shed in the last 3-4 years.

Talks on the pay claim are expected to start in the next few weeks.