Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 29 November 2014

BBC bosses forced to read news as Stephen Nolan joins staff in 24-hour strike action

Off the air: Stephen Nolan's radio show was replaced with highlights
Off the air: Stephen Nolan's radio show was replaced with highlights
Picket line: Strikers protest outside the BBC Broadcasting House on Monday

BBC bosses were forced to take to the airwaves after staff staged a mass walkout over looming job cuts at the corporation.

Thousands of disappointed BBC Northern Ireland viewers and listeners had to put up with repeats and highlights programmes in place of their favourite shows as the result of Monday's industrial action.

News bulletins were also thrown into chaos along with popular radio shows such as Good Morning Ulster and The Nolan Show. The head of news for BBC Northern Ireland, Kathleen Carragher, was among top management to take on reporting duties when she read a news report on Radio Ulster.

News and Politics Editor Michael Cairns also took to the air to deliver reports, as did Head of Sport Shane Glynn, while Head of TV News Angelina Fusco presented Newsline.

Pickets were staged outside BBC buildings across the UK, including at Broadcasting House in Belfast, throughout the 24-hour strike which ended at midnight on Monday night.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said it called the strike after failing to reach an agreement with management over the redeployment of 30 staff members facing compulsory redundancy.

The corporation is cutting about 2,000 jobs over five years as part of its Delivering Quality First programme.

The BBC said 554 employees had left as a result of voluntary redundancy, 186 had been redeployed, and there have been 153 compulsory redundancies so far.

Around 150 journalistic staff based in Northern Ireland took part in the industrial action, according to an NUJ spokesman. Throughout Monday staff took turns to man the picket line, many holding placards expressing their opposition to the compulsory redundancies.

Monday's picket line included a number of the BBC's best known local faces, including Jim Fitzpatrick, Martina Purdy, Chris Paige, Vincent Kearney, Stephen Dempster and Stephen Walker.

Many passing motorists honked their horns in support of the action.

NUJ representative at the BBC in Northern Ireland, Mervyn Jess, said staff here had taken the decision to strike in solidarity with their colleagues elsewhere in the UK.

"Staff are facing a process of compulsory redundancy and that is something the union is completely opposed to and the cuts that are the reason for it," he said.

He said that one member of staff based in Northern Ireland is facing compulsory redundancy.

"We seek the protection of people's jobs now and for the future and the quality of content across the BBC."

Mr Jess said historically the union has held the belief that a much better alternative to compulsory redundancies is redeployment or retraining of staff.

The BBC's flagship Today programme on BBC Radio 4 was dropped from the schedule on Monday and, on television, BBC Breakfast was broadcast from London by a single presenter, instead of its regular Salford hosts.

The usual programme was replaced with a 30-minute bulletin on the hour.

A BBC spokeswoman apologised for the disruption to services.

"Unfortunately industrial action does not alter the fact that the BBC has significant savings targets and as a consequence may have to make a number of compulsory redundancies," she said.

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