London: Potentially damaging strikes by BBC staff appear to have been averted after talks between unions and the public broadcaster over cost-cutting plans.
While further talks are due to take place and staff are still to be ballotted, they said in a joint statement that they had thrashed out an agreement in principle on terms of compulsory redundancies, allowances and pensions.
The outcome was announced after marathon overnight talks between the National Union of Journalists, the broadcasting union, Bectu, and Unite and BBC management, which appears to have averted industrial action. While the BBC believes the controversial reforms, which will include thousands of job cuts, fewer programmes and better use of technology, will maintain or increase quality, staff fear standards would slip.
The BBC’s six-year cost-cutting drive, announced in October by director general Mark Thompson, will involve the loss of 2,500 jobs, the sale of its West London headquarters and a 10% cut in programmes.
NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear said in a statement signed off by all parties: “We’re pleased the imminent threat of compulsory redundancies has been addressed and that all staff required to work unpredictable hours will continue to get a fair deal.
“These negotiations now give us a basis on which we can address further changes proposed by the BBC.”
BECTU general secretary Gerry Morrissey said: “This set of negotiations with the BBC has been particularly difficult given the financial constraints on the BBC and the number of areas targeted for cuts, all of which impact significantly on many staff. After extensive talks overnight we have an agreement in principle which we hope will pave the way for a final settlement of the dispute.”
The director of BBC People, Stephen Kelly, said negotiations had been very constructive. “We are hopeful that the proposed agreement will settle the dispute and enable the BBC to make the necessary changes required for the benefit of our audiences,” he said.
The agreement is subject to acceptance by a consultative ballot of staff in the next few weeks.