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01/06/2005

BBC unions call for more talks

BBC Unions have called on Director-General Mark Thompson to convene a further meeting with officials on an ACAS peace plan.
The decision came at a meeting in London on May 31, where Bectu, the NUJ, and Amicus representatives from BBC sites across the UK debated an offer tabled by the BBC after all-night talks four days earlier in a bid to end strike action over planned cuts and privatisation.
Although the offer contained concessions sufficient to justify consultative ballots in BBC Broadcast and BBC Resources, both threatened with sell-offs, the meeting believed that the BBC had not gone far enough to avoid compulsory redundancies elsewhere.
Unions have called for a meeting with Mark Thompson to discuss a framework in which divisional level negotiations on compulsory job cuts could go ahead, without denying unions the right to take further industrial action if the outcome of those talks was unsatisfactory.
In a joint statement issued after the May 31 meeting, unions warned that the dispute, over roughly 4,000 job cuts at the BBC, which has already led to a one-day strike on May 23, was not over.
Bectu's Assistant General Secretary, Gerry Morrissey, said: "We welcome the proposals in relation to the privatisation of BBC Resources, and the guarantees that are expected on behalf of members in BBC Broadcast if it is sold off.
"However, on the issue of compulsory redundancies there is still a significant gap between the unions and the BBC, which we hope will be bridged by divisional-level talks on the details of the cuts. If not there will be renewed industrial action."
BBC management had hoped that the ACAS offer would be accepted by representatives, or put to members of all three unions in a consultative ballot, although the unions' negotiating team had made no commitment to recommend it to the May 31 meeting.
After hearing a report on the ACAS talks, representatives expressed concern that the offer lacked any concrete promise that there would be no compulsory redundancies, although it did contain a BBC commitment that there would be no compulsory cuts until July 2006.
There were calls from some areas for outright rejection of the offer, and the announcement of further strike dates. Planned action on May 31 and June 1 had been called off as a gesture of goodwill by unions after the BBC tabled its ACAS peace offer following the May 23 stoppage.
In an effort to keep dialogue going, however, the unions agreed to call for a meeting with the Director-General, and officials emphasised after the meeting that they were determined to have "meaningful negotiations" with the BBC if at all possible.
But, if the suggestion of a summit meeting with Mark Thompson was turned down, the response of unions would be to resume industrial action before any directorate-level talks took place, and accuse the BBC of refusing to engage in constructive discussions.
If the BBC is willing to continue with talks about avoiding compulsory cuts, the unions will agree to a trawl for volunteers for redundancy in the many departments which are trying to shed staff, partly to meet a 15% cut in budgets across the board.
Although there is no plan yet for a consultative ballot of union members on the BBC's ACAS proposals, ballots will now be run in BBC Broadcast Ltd and BBC Resources, both facing privatisation, where concessions have been offered.
(GB)
VMI.TV Ltd

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