Second strike threat despite BBC chiefs agreeing to Acas meeting

By Caitlin Pike

BBC journalists are still planning to walk out for 48 hours next
week despite management agreeing to talks with the unions at
arbitration service Acas which were due to be held on Thursday.

The NUJ said it was going to the talks with an open mind but was
still planning a second strike at the BBC next week, unless the fresh
talks brought about a significant breakthrough in the dispute over the
cutting of nearly 4,000 jobs.

The unions – the NUJ, BECTU and
Amicus – turned to industrial action after the BBC refused to guarantee
there would be no compulsory redundancies.

The BBC has maintained
that it was “the unions who walked away from the table”. NUJ general
secretary Jeremy Dear said: “The NUJ has been seeking proper
negotiations from day one and we hope the talks at Acas deliver this.
If they don’t, our members are ready to take further action next week.”

The
BBC has said that it has accepted the invitation from Acas but made no
further comment as to whether it will compromise on existing plans
which include cutting 20 per cent of the BBC workforce.

At the
Westminster Media Forum on Tuesday, director-general Mark Thompson said
that in order to deliver the government’s proposals for the BBC in the
future, every drop of value would have to be squeezed from the licence
fee.

“It will not be possible to deliver the BBC we’ve talked
about without quite radical change. In the end, our first duty is to
secure a strong and independent BBC in the very different digital
environment of the future,” he said.

Dear said that up until now the NUJ had not felt the BBC was prepared to negotiate its plans for cuts in any way.

He
said the strike has sent a clear message to management: “In an e-mail
to staff Richard Sambrook, director of the BBC’s World Service and
Global News division, had, for the first time, used the word
‘negotiate’ which is a significant development.”

Dear said that
in an interview with deputy director-general Mark Byford on Radio 4 and
Five Live on Monday, he had used any word but “negotiate” but wanted to
“hear what unions had to say”.

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