Prime-time ITV shows under threat as staff decide to strike

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More than 700 ITV workers will stage a 36-hour strike over pay next week which may blackout a number of the channel's top shows.

More than 700 ITV workers will stage a 36-hour strike over pay next week which may blackout a number of the channel's top shows.

The decision to strike was taken by broadcasting staff from London Weekend Television, Yorkshire and Granada following a vote in favour of industrial action in protest at a 3.3 per cent pay offer.

The action, involving members of the Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (Bectu) and Amicus, will run from 7am on 8 April. Programmes that may be affected by the strike include Coronation Street, Emmerdale and Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway, according to the unions.

The announcement came only a day after The Independent revealed that Charles Allen, the chief executive of ITV, took home a bumper package of £8.7m last year in pay, free shares, options and benefits.

At the same time, Britain's largest commercial channel had a disastrous year in terms of its ratings, with a six per cent drop in ITV1's share of television viewers.

But from a financial perspective, it performed well, reporting a 58 per cent performance rise in profit in March and a sharp rise in share values.

Yesterday, the unions argued that the 3.3 per cent offer "barely touched" the rate of inflation while objecting to the generous managerial bonuses.

"It is unacceptable that ITV executives award themselves huge share bonuses but will not give their workers a decent pay rise," said Gerry Morrissey, Bectu's assistant general secretary. The unions also emphasised that the company had exceeded its cost-cutting targets, with the loss of more than 1,500 jobs.

"ITV is traditionally reg-arded as a high payer. The fact is that high pay only applies to the few in ITV," said Sharon Eliot, a Bectu official. "Some staff in ITV are paid as little as £11,000 a year. In a year when the company has exceeded its cost-cutting targets by 20 per cent and cut more than 1,500 jobs, ITV staff deserve a substantial increase."

Mike Smallwood, the national officer of Amicus, added: "Our members have had enough of the company's penny-pinching when it comes to staff pay rises. Staff living standards are being eroded year on year and they deserve a far better deal given their contribution to the company's continuing success.

"Staff have been told that the company needs to keep pay in line with inflation yet ITV's senior management and directors are being awarded excessive amounts. We want a substantial increase for our members."

ITV defended its pay offer as reasonable, having been backdated to October and combined with an offer of a minimum salary of £13,500 and an extra day's holiday.

"We believe that this is a fair and reasonable offer and only a small percentage of our staff have rejected it," the company said in a statement.

ITV also emphasised that only 4.5 per cent of the company's workforce had voted for strike action and a number of regional sites would be untouched.

Efforts would also be taken to prevent any disruption to scheduled broadcasting, in response to fears of blackouts of popular programmes.