Unions to fight 'provocative' BBC cost-savings

Broadcasting union Bectu has warned it will start to ballot for strike action on Friday if management at the corporation call for volunteers to take redundancy.

BBC journalists and production staff gathered outside Broadcasting House in London today to lobby BBC Trust members as they arrived for a meeting to finalise plans to plug a £2 billion funding shortfall.

Gerry Morrissey, general secretary of broadcasting workers’ union Bectu, said: “The Trust is meeting here today to rubber-stamp [BBC director-general] Mark Thompson’s proposals for the expected 2,800 job cuts.

“We are here to lobby them and to explain to them the damage these cuts will have to the quality of BBC output, especially factual programming and news programming.”

He said he believed the management were going to call for volunteers to take redundancy on Friday.

He said: “We would see that as a provocative act and we would immediately start to ballot for strike action.

“At the moment we are prepared to sit down and have a dialogue with them, but if they are going to call for volunteers we would see that as a undermining our dialogue.”

As BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons arrived for the meeting, Morrissey approached him to ask for “meaningful negotiations”.

Lyons said: “You know from everything we’ve said before that the Trust’s only ambition is to strengthen the BBC.

“There are some difficult decisions to make and we will take all the issues into very careful consideration.

“This isn’t a one-off exercise – we will approve the plan today, possibly with further changes.”

Morrissey said he expected managers to enter into meaningful negotiation but if they went ahead to call for volunteers on Friday he would consider them not to have done so.

About a dozen BBC staff outside Broadcasting House handed out notices to other staff and carried banners which read “Save our BBC…” and “Breaking News… Salami slicer strikes again (and so will we)…”

Paul Mason, NUJ representative on Newsnight, said: “The Trust exists to defend quality on behalf of the viewer.

“We don’t know the full details of what they are being asked to rubber-stamp today but we do know, right now, that that is what they are going to do – rubber-stamp it.

“It may come in future to talking about jobs but today it’s purely about making sure that this body that is supposed to protect the public from bad management decisions does its job.”

He said quality “is being sacrificed to dross”.

Another BBC journalist, who did not want to be named, said he was protesting against plans to put advertising on BBC’s international website services.

He said: “The BBC has a long history through the World Service in broadcasting abroad and being the public face of Britain.

“It’s very well regarded throughout the world but now the face of Britain is going to have Coca-Cola on it.”

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