UK – Some 10,000 BBC employees will vote next week on whether to take strike action against the broadcasting giant over a pensions and salary dispute.

The joint decision by unions to ballot workers followed, amongst others, the BBC’s refusal to drop its plans to close its £6.4bn (€9.2bn) final salary scheme to new members, slash benefits, increase staff contributions and raise the retirement age.

Staff was also angered by the salary increases awarded to the BBC’s top brass against the backdrop of more than a 1,000 job losses over the past year.

According to supervisory official Luke Crawley of independent media union BECTU, “Members are angry at the contempt shown to them by the BBC; asking them to take a pay cut and to work longer is insulting. Adding insult to injury is the executive board’s greed in swallowing inflated pay rises of between 10 and 30%. BECTU members will vote for industrial action."

According to the union, roughly 70% to 80% of staff members have consistently rejected the BBC’s pension proposals.

Pension discussions came to an end at the end of June, with management remaining unmoved on its pension proposals, said BECTU.

“How I understand it, …the consultation about pension changes has to be meaningful. And it’s certainly difficult to see how there has been meaningful consultation, Crawley told IPE, adding that unions made it clear that these proposals are “deeply unacceptable” to their members.

A spokesperson for the BBC told IPE that it had consulted broadly, and made small changes to its proposals where possible. However, overall, the Corporation believed that its proposals struck “the right balance”.

She added that the BBC was “disappointed” that unions had decided to ballot their workers, and confirmed that a meeting would hopefully take place before strike action ensued.

BECTU assistant general secretary Gerry Morrissey commented: "BBC management has demonstrated unbelievable hypocrisy in awarding themselves huge pay increases and bonuses while at the same time undermining and devaluing the package of pay and pensions for those staff who have so far avoided compulsory redundancy.

“I have no doubt that our members will respond with an overwhelming yes vote for strike action and the ball is now firmly back in the court of the BBC Director General".

The BBC is due to receive formal notice of the ballot this Thursday. Ballot papers will be issued by joint unions BECTU, NUJ, and the Musicians' Union on July 20, and the ballot will close two weeks later.

The unions will be free to commence industrial action from August 10.
If the industrial action goes ahead, it will be the second strike since Thompson took control of the BBC two years ago with a tough cost-cutting agenda.

In April, IPE reported the BBC’s pension proposals, which included closing the final salary scheme to new members from September 2006 and bumping up member contributions from 5.5% to 6% at the start of September, and again to 7.5% in April 2007.

Furthermore, all pension benefits from 31 March 2016 onwards will be paid at 65 rather than 60. A new defined benefit ‘career average’ scheme will be introduced for all new members from September.

Thompson blamed the proposed changes - following a triennial valuation by consulting firm Watson Wyatt - on increasing funding pressures, longevity, anticipated lower investment returns, and “mounting” legislative requirements.