BBC unions in dispute over sackings

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BBC unions on Friday went into dispute with the corporation over proposed compulsory redundancies.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said in a statement: ‘The NUJ has lodged a Failure to Agree with the BBC after the Corporation announced yesterday (17 November) that they want to make 45 compulsory redundancies in the Factual and Learning department.

‘At a meeting with the joint unions – NUJ, Amicus and Bectu – managers said that the trawl for 421 volunteers had not yielded enough staff willing to go and that they had ‘no alternative but to move to compulsory redundancy selection’.

‘The unions are determined to fight this and have therefore begun a formal dispute process.’

NUJ National Broadcasting Organiser Paul McLaughlin said: ‘It is ludicrous and insulting for members that this division feels the need to attempt to press on with compulsory redundancy when other options are available.

‘We will take this fight to the highest level and we would expect the BBC to see the sense of our arguments.

‘We will be reminding the BBC that our mandate for strike action still stands.’

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear added: ‘Since the summer, BBC management have changed their minds about how many volunteers they needed for redundancy on an almost daily basis.

‘To treat staff in this way is cruel and degrading and is causing BBC staff huge stress.

‘This whole situation is entirely unnecessary and we will fight these senseless cuts every step of the way.’

The NUJ statement added: ‘The issue of compulsory redundancies in Factual and Learning will now be referred to national level negotiations.

‘Discussions have also covered key issues of Production Innovation.

‘Management have agreed to honour the 1998 multi-skilling agreement and consult with the union on changes in working practices.

‘There will also be no further roll out of Production Innovation practices, including desktop editing until negotiations have taken place and agreement is reached.

‘Details of two desktop editing pilots currently underway will be confirmed in writing.’

Entertainment workers union BECTU is warning: ‘Talks on BBC plans for more than 3,000 job cuts now look set to continue into the New Year.

‘In most areas the discussions, which were kicked off by the post-strike ACAS agreement in June 2005, have not yet reached a conclusion, and unions are likely to delay a promised meeting with the Director Genneral which was originally expected to take place late this year.

‘In many areas the lengthy duration of talks is a sign of good progress, not disagreement.

‘Trawls for redundancy volunteers have been completed in most Divisions, and in many cases there are almost enough, or even too many, to meet management’s demands for cuts.

‘However, some managers are threatening to turn down volunteers, even if that leads to compulsory redundancies, and the unions are not yet predicting a fully-agreed outcome to the talks by the time they meet Director Gemeral Mark Thompson to review the situation.

‘Nevertheless, unions are confident that, with flexibility from local managers, a very significant proportion of the target job cuts will be achieved through voluntary redundancy.

‘Plans to out-source back office services are still being pursued by the BBC.

‘In the BBC People Division, which covers Human Resources, recruitment, training, health and safety, and diversity, management expect to announce a final shortlist of bidders in mid-November.

‘BECTU, which opposes the outsourcing exercise, has called for the contract covering 305 staff to be awarded to a single company, instead of being split across a range of small providers.

‘The BBC’s official position is that it “prefers” a single contract, but no firm commitment has been made to this.

‘In Finance Division, plans for outsourcing have still to be revealed, but BECTU is expecting that approximately one third of its 1,000 staff may be affected, with another third potentially facing redundancy when details are announced this month.

‘The impact of back-office job losses on other staff is still unclear, but it now seems certain that they will have to pick up at least some of the work done by departing staff, as the union predicted.’

l New research conducted by the NUJ has revealed the ‘shockingly low earnings’ of many freelance media workers – and that the situation is getting worse.

The research was carried out in advance of the 2005 NUJ Pay In The Media Summit that took place at NUJ head office, Headland House, last Saturday (19th November).

The NUJ said: ‘The daily rate for reporters on some regional papers was as low as £60 (Metro, regional), while £85 or £90 a day was the norm for sub-editors at many Trinity Mirror and Newsquest tiles.

‘The Chichester Observer paid just £25.

‘The situation for photographers is often even more appalling.

‘In the regional press, a photographer can earn as little as £12.50 for an image (Yeovil Express), or £60 a day (Brighton Argus).

‘For photographers on the nationals, rates are at a standstill or even going down.

‘Where they have gone up they are far from keeping pace with inflation.

‘The Daily Telegraph has only increased its half-day rate by £10 in 10 years and the Guardian by £15.

‘At the Times the rate had actually slumped by £5, whereas it had stood still at the Daily Star and News of the World.

‘The cost of ever-more expensive equipment, the increased time it takes to electronically format a photograph and the necessity of running a car are almost never taken into account and have to come out of earnings.

‘For writers, “invisible” costs such as tax, accountants’ fees, transport, office equipment, bills and earnings lost through ill health all have to be absorbed by the individual.

‘Taking all these overhead expenses and lack of staff benefits into account, it has been calculated that a freelance reporter paid £120 a day would really only be earning a salary of £7,000.’

National Freelance Organiser John Toner said: ‘These pay figures are a disgrace to the companies that pay them and an insult to the professionals who are struggling to live on them.

‘We will not allow freelances to be the poor relation in an industry that already pays its staffers badly.’

NUJ General Secretary Jeremy Dear added: ‘The way freelances are treated is despicable.

‘These are highly skilled people that the media industry relies upon heavily and is hugely indebted to.

‘The NUJ is putting freelances’ plight at the top of our agenda and we are going to work tirelessly to stop this cynical exploitation.

‘There is no place for a two-tier workforce in our profession.

‘We will not stand for freelances being paid a second-class rate for doing a top-class job.’