Union orders boycott of BBC chief's live address to staff

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They will come in their thousands. They will assemble in Baghdad, Moscow and Shepherd's Bush. And at 10.30am today their screens will light up with an urgent address from the supreme master telling them how he can make their lives complete.

Put this date in your diary. It is the day of Greg Dyke's message to the world.

Yet, in what may be the oddest "strike" in industrial history, thousands of BBC workers are expected to remain at their posts in protest at the dismissal of two journalists three months ago.

Almost 24,000 BBC employees in 150 BBC offices across the globe have been summoned to the director general's "Big Conversation". They have received e-mails and text messages imploring them to attend. "It's been a combination of Hi-de-Hi! niceness, backed by a good dose of arm twisting," one staffer said.

They have been told to turn up in meeting rooms, studios and canteens to see the live address. This will be followed by an "interactive programme" and a web chat.

Greg Dyke, who arrived at the corporation brandishing cards displaying the message "Cut the crap", told his staff in an e-mail: "We are announcing big, bold changes." He has ordered managers to make every effort to spare employees from their duties.

But the National Union of Journalists has ordered its members to stay at their desks. The union says Adli Hawwari and Abdul-Hadi Jiad, producers at the BBC's Arabic Service, were sacked unfairly.

The corporation claims it has spent £1m in five years defending itself from "vexatious" and "frivolous" complaints from the pair. The journalists claim they have suffered bullying and discrimination at the hands of BBC managers.

In a recent ballot, 63 per cent of NUJ members voted to take part in "industrial action short of a strike". An NUJ spokesman, who admitted it was unusual to ask people to keep working, said: "We are instructing our 3,000 members at the BBC not to attend or take part in the Big Conversation."

A BBC spokesman said he was surprised by the reaction. "In effect, the NUJ is boycotting its own members' views of how to make improvements at the BBC."

**Editorial staff on the right-wing Telegraph group of newspapers, which include The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator magazine, have voted to back negotiating rights for the NUJ.

The company will now be forced to "recognise" the union as a legitimate representative of journalists in talks over pay, hours and holidays. The union was "derecognised" by the group 15 years ago.