Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Minister's plea over BBC strikes

Baroness Warsi has written to BBC director general Mark Thompson over planned strikes at the corporation

A Cabinet Minister has called for reassurances from the BBC that planned strikes by staff would not breach impartiality rules by blacking out the Conservative Party conference.

Party chairman Baroness Warsi wrote to the corporation's director general Mark Thompson after dates for two planned 48-hour walkouts over pensions were announced on Monday.

Journalists, technicians and other broadcast staff will strike on October 5/6 - when the Tories are gathered in Birmingham, where Prime Minister David Cameron is making a keynote speech.

The action, announced by Bectu, the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and Unite, is planned to resume on October 19/20 when Chancellor George Osborne is to unveil details of spending cuts.

In her letter, Baroness Warsi said: "Like many people in Britain, I was concerned to read reports today that BBC staff plan to take industrial action in October. Everyone's hope remains that a fair and amicable resolution can be found to the dispute so that strike action need not go ahead."

The industrial action came despite the BBC offering a new concession in an attempt to avert strikes.

The broadcaster has offered to set up a new career average scheme for workers who belong to its defined benefit pension, who are concerned that the planned changes will reduce the value of their retirement income.

The BBC announced plans to overhaul its defined benefit schemes in June after discovering the deficit had ballooned from £470 million in 2008 to about £2 billion.

It gave existing members of the scheme the choice of either staying in it but having any salary increases used in pension calculations capped at 1% a year, or leaving the scheme and joining a new defined contribution one.

But members of the NUJ and the technicians' union Bectu voted to strike by more than 9-1 in protest at the "punitive" changes the group planned to make to the scheme.