Unions and UTV in deadlock over redundancies

Staff at Northern Irish broadcaster UTV have rejected an attempt by management to make all staff reapply for their jobs as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

Both the NUJ and Bectu have been involved in ongoing talks with the broadcaster, but these broke down this morning.

Yesterday, the unions proposed the appointment of a conciliator to break the deadlock, but management rejected this proposal.

The unions have said they are now seeking the intervention of the Labour Relations Agency, but claim the company is refusing to provide information on the restructuring of the television division and has withdrawn from negotiations.

NUJ Irish secretary Séamus Dooley and Bectu national industrial officer Pat Styles claimed in a joint statement that management had been engaged in a “fake consultation process” and had “treated their staff with total contempt”.

The statement said: ‘A voluntary redundancy programme has been put forward but the company has refused to withdraw the threat of compulsory redundancy in order to pressurise staff into leaving.

“The final insult was the proposal to declare all remaining posts as ‘new roles’, contriving redundancies to undermine pay and conditions at the station.

Dooley added that Northern Ireland Assembly had requested meaningful negotiations with the trade unions and that the Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee had also got involved, requesting a postponement of the redundancy plan until publication of the Ofcom report on public service broadcasting in the New Year.

Styles added: ‘Management refused to outline the impact of the redundancies on the workload of those who remain. The legal requirement to justify redundancies in the consultation process has been ignored and no alternatives to redundancies have been explored.”

Managing director Michael Wilson said that the company believed the proposed selection process put forward by UTV was ‘fair, robust and transparent for staff at this difficult time”.

‘A key element of the consultation with union and non-union staff representatives is for all parties to provide feedback on our proposals or to put forward suitable alternatives,’he said.

‘Unfortunately we have not reached agreement with the unions on this process as they have failed to recognise the economic realities facing UTV or to put forward any alternatives for consideration.”

UTV has now extended the deadline for voluntary severance applications until New Year’s Eve, and said that it is willing to consider ‘any constructive proposal’which the unions put forward, ‘even at this late stage”.

Wilson added: ‘While we are disappointed that our negotiations with the unions have reached an impasse, we must move ahead with our restructuring plans as the dramatic and continuing downturn in TV advertising combined with Ofcom’s proposed reduction in regional hours regrettably means we have to embark on a significant restructure of the television division.”

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