ITV Strike: Tough day for boards as Britain's largest corporations host AGMs

Striking staff protest outside ITV's annual meeting in London, Next grilled over its refusal to pay the living wage to workers and Lloyds escapes pay rebellion but shareholder speaks out

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The Independent Online

Shareholders in ITV were heckled by workers outside the broadcaster’s annual meeting as staff went on strike over pay for the first time in 10 years.

On a day when four of Britain’s biggest corporations hosted AGMs across the country – Lloyds Banking Group in Edinburgh, Prudential in London and the fashion retailer Next in Leicester – the most eventful was at  the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre in London, where dozens of  ITV workers gathered outside and called on bosses to give them 2.75 per cent pay rise, rather than the 2 per cent offered.

Staff argued that a bigger rise was justified because profits had risen 23 per cent last year to £712m. Those on the picket line held signs reading “rewards for staff, not just shareholders”.

The protest came as ITV revealed that revenues jumped 14 per cent to £665m in the three months to the end of March, with advertising revenue and cash from in-house productions both rising.

Apart from causing disruption at the meeting, the action also meant that Have I Got News For You, which is filmed at ITV’s London Studios, was postponed until today, and the recording schedule for Coronation Street and Emmerdale was changed. Local news programmes were also affected, with stand in presenters used in some regions. Shareholders, however, seemed unperturbed and all resolutions were passed.

In Edinburgh, the part- nationalised lender Lloyds escaped being hit by a pay revolt, even though the investor advisory group Pirc had recommended that shareholders reject a “highly excessive” £11.5m package for the chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio. In total, just 2.33 per cent voted down the bank’s remuneration report.

Lloyds’ chairman, Lord Blackwell, said it could be fully returned to private hands within the next year. “It’s possible and would be very desirable. Whether the Government can achieve that depends on the market conditions.”  

However, Keith Elliott, a Lloyds shareholder who is currently in dispute with the lender following the collapse of his company Premier Motor Auctions in 2008, accused the bank of writing clauses into settlement agreements for interest rate swap mis-selling cases that protected it from future claims – even if Lloyds  was found to have broken the law by acting fraudulently. 

Mr Elliott said at the meeting: “It appears the bank considers the law to be simply advisory.  Indeed I can also confirm to shareholders that the bank is now writing clauses into its settlement agreements to prevent it from being sued – even if it commits fraud.  The wording in the agreements is ‘fraud and acts of dishonesty’.”

Meanwhile, in Leicester, Next faced hostile questions about why it still refuses to pay the so-called Living Wage to its staff. “It is not for us to endorse the Living Wage,” said the chairman John Barton, adding that it would not be implemented. The dispute  comes in the same week that Next and its chief executive Lord Wolfson faced pressure from unions after it scrapped higher wages for staff who work on a Sunday, stripping 800 shop workers of £1,000-a-year premium.

The Conservative peer had said he would increase shop-floor wages by at least 5 per cent, and, after months of pressure, he offered to share his bonus with staff if there was a shortfall in funding.

Elsewhere, the Prudential boss Tidjane Thiam also avoided  a full-scale pay rebellion at his final annual meeting before joining Credit Suisse this summer. Just over 6 per cent of investors failed to back the insurer’s remuneration report – a marked contrast to 2012 when it was hit by a sizeable protest over awards for senior executives.