BBC offers lifeline to staff after union talks

By Caitlin Pike

BBC staff facing compulsory redundancy this
year have been delivered a lifeline after an agreement between
broadcasting unions and BBC management was reached in a meeting on
Thursday.

The
agreement, struck after five hours of talks between senior union
negotiators and the BBC director general Mark Thompson, will lead to
further negotiations and halt plans to send out compulsory redundancy
notices which had been planned to go to some staff at the end of this
month.

The cut backs at the BBC, affecting around 200 staff, are part of a savings programme which aims to save the BBC £355m by 2008.

Details
of the agreement reached mean that negotiations across all divisions
where there are still outstanding issues will be extended for two
months. Compulsory redundancy notices which were due to be sent out on
1 February will now not be issued, the earliest the BBC will consider
issuing such notices is now 1 April. Thompson has given his assurance
that he will impress on management in the divisions that they must do
everything possible to avoid compulsory redundancy.

The unions
remain hopeful that sufficient progress can be made during the course
of these new talks – but the three unions also made it clear to BBC
management that should they not be able to reach a position which
avoided compulsory redundancy they reserved the right to take further
industrial action. This was the unanimous view of NUJ and BECTU
representatives who met earlier this week.

National broadcasting
organiser Paul McLaughlin said: “The unions believe that the
negotiations should be concluded as soon as possible however, while the
threat of compulsory redundancy remains the mandate from our members is
clear: continue talking, continue negotiating and if necessary continue
fighting until the threat of compulsory redundancy is removed.”

A joint statement from the BBC, BECTU, NUJ and Amicus was issued at 10.30am today:

“Both
sides acknowledged the considerable progress made in divisional talks
since last June’s ACAS agreement. The unions emphasised that compulsory
redundancies were unacceptable to their members. They also told Mark
Thompson that they believed there were further steps the BBC could take
to achieve its targets through voluntary rather than compulsory means
but said they were concerned that time was running out and that, unless
progress could be made, further industrial action was inevitable.

“For
the BBC, Mark Thompson said that the BBC had to meet its value for
money and headcount targets and that the change programme had to
continue within the context of the existing divisional talks and the
timetable laid down in the ACAS agreement. The DG however committed
himself to ensuring that the unions’ suggestions were fed into the
divisional talks. The BBC’s divisional directors would be asked to
redouble their efforts to minimise the number of compulsory
redundancies. He also said the BBC would look again at whether it was
feasible to reduce the number of compulsory redundancies through better
inter-divisional co-ordination.

“In
order to give the divisional talks the best chance of making progress
while remaining within the ACAS timetable, the unions offered on a
wholly exceptional basis and for the period from today to the 1st April
this year only, to waive two months of the five month redeployment
period which staff who are being made compulsorily redundant are
entitled to under the statement agreed by the unions and the BBC in
1998. This would not change the earliest date under the ACAS agreement
at which the compulsory redundancies in the present change programme
could be effected: that would remain the 1st of July 2006. It would
however mean that the first date at which it might be necessary to send
out any compulsory redundancy notices would now be the 1st April this
year, allowing more time for management and unions to try to reduce the
need for compulsory redundancies further.

“In conclusion, the unions
stated that they believed that the BBC should be able to achieve all
its targets without the need for compulsory redundancies. The DG
reiterated his position that he could not rule out the need for
compulsories in some divisions but said he remained committed to
achieving as much as possible through voluntary means.

“The DG offered to meet union officials towards the end of the year for a further update on progress on the change programme.”

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