BBC staff vote to stage pay protest strike

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF staff at BBC television and radio have voted to walk out later this month in a protest against "double standards" over pay at the corporation.

While senior executives, including the director-general, Sir John Birt, have been awarded increases of 9 per cent, the overwhelming majority of the 20,000-strong workforce have received 4 per cent.

Unusually, journalists and production personnel are not taking the action on 20 October to increase the pay offer, but to "put down a marker for the future". Management has already "imposed" the 4 per cent rise and employees' representatives believe they cannot force a rethink this year.

The lunchtime walkout, which is expected to last two hours, is timed to put maximum pressure on the BBC's board of governors, which meets the next day.

Gerry Morrissey, national officer for the production union Bectu and chief negotiator for corporation staff, pointed out that the remuneration of the BBC executive board as a whole rose by 11.5 per cent between 1997 and 1998.

Mr Morrissey said: "It's unlikely there would have been industrial action if everyone had received 4 per cent. People are angry that they are being urged to show restraint over pay, while the same principle does not apply to senior executives. Management is guilty of double standards."

Unions calculate that Sir John Birt has received a 413 per cent increase in his pay over the past 10 years compared with inflation of 60 per cent.

Members of Bectu, the National Union of Journalists and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union voted six to four in favour of action in a ballot in which four out of ten union members participated.

A BBC spokesman said the pay award, which guaranteed an increase in salary of at least pounds 500 for full-time staff, was "fair and reasonable" given market trends, inflation forecasts and the corporation's ability to pay.

Significant numbers of staff received more in recognition of outstanding performance or increased responsibility, he said. Some members of the executive committee received between 3 and 4 per cent. Higher increases reflected enhanced responsibilities.

The corporation would try to minimise the disruption to programmes, he added.