Journalists at BBC Arabic set to start 48-hour strike

Journalists from the BBC’s Arabic Service are set to start a 48 hour strike today in protest at changes to staff rotas which they claim are unworkable.

Members of the National Union of Journalists proposed their walkout after balloting in favour of strike action last week over changes they believe will cause unnecessary disruption and increase stress levels.

The ballot results showed that 64 (89 per cent) of the 72 that took part were in favour of strike action.

According to the union, its 160 members at BBC Arabic Shift are having changes imposed on them that would result in journalists coming in for an extra 26 shifts per year.

Planned changes to shift start and finish times, the union added, would also mean its members would, in some cases, lose access to taxi transport to or from work.

Union officials claim the BBC Arabic chapel was left with no alternative than strike action after managers rejected their alternative proposals and an offer to take their dispute to Acas for resolution.

The BBC issued a statement to Press Gazette last night in which it said it was committed to finding a way forward and was open to further “meaningful” discussions and that the proposed strike was unjustified.

“We are disappointed with the results of the NUJ strike ballot at BBC Arabic,” a spokesman for BBC Worldwide said in the statement.

“The BBC considers this strike action to be unjustified.

“BBC Arabic staff are being treated no differently to other parts of the BBC, and these changes to shift patterns are in line with current practice across other areas of the organisation.

“We know the high esteem that audiences have for BBC Arabic across the Middle East and will take measures to ensure that all BBC Arabic programming and online services continue uninterrupted.

“The BBC is committed to finding a constructive way forward in dialogue with staff and is open to further meaningful discussions.”

Last year the NUJ raised fears that cuts of between 25-40 per cent of the World Service’s £277m annual budget were likely to lead to service closures and significant redundancies in the UK and across the globe.

Responsibility for providing funding for the World Service is also about to shift from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the BBC, raising fears that further job losses will soon be announced as World Service teams are more closely integrated with domestic newsgathering teams.

BBC Director General Mark Thompson said last week that the BBC was facing cuts of around 20 per cent to current budgets as a consequence of the Government forcing it to take on funding of the World Service and freezing the license Fee until 2016.

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