BBC 'aimed to weed out trade union activists'

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The Independent Online
TRADE UNIONISTS at the BBC were unfairly selected for compulsory redundancy under an anti-union regime imposed by John Birt, the Director-General, it was alleged yesterday.

Two union negotiators were forced to leave recently because of an 'animus' against lay union officials, an industrial tribunal in central London was told.

Jeremy McMullan, counsel for Bectu, the broadcasting union, said BBC management had discriminated against the two because of their union activities and accused the corporation of a plan to 'weed out trade unionists'.

The tribunal refused to hear a case arguing for the temporary reinstatement of the two former employees, but Tony Lennon, Bectu's general secretary, registered his determination to take the case to a full tribunal hearing on 29 November, where the BBC would be accused of victimisation. He said one witness for the union will be a former BBC supervisor who has evidence of conspiratorial management meetings.

After the hearing, Mr Lennon said that the 'producers' choice' policy, which introduced an internal market at the corporation, involved 'stamping out any resistance' to Mr Birt's ideas. This week Mr Birt relinquished his tax- avoiding freelance status at the corporation after his arrangement was revealed in the Independent on Sunday.

Mr Lennon said the criteria for compulsory redundancy unfairly discriminated against trade unionists. Among the points taken into account were flexibility and availability for work which staff representatives might have difficulty in fulfilling because of union business. Of three possible targets for redundancy on a union negotiating team, only a female employee was kept on, the union said.

Mr Lennon argued that she was retained because the union had made a point of insisting on equal opportunities. The union argues that the 'hit rate' for union activists - two out of three - was considerably higher than the overall ratio of 30 compulsory redundancies out of 700 personnel.

Mr Lennon said that colleagues were 'astonished' at the decision to get rid of Mark Banes, a 44-year-old cameraman, and Richard O'Mahoney, 32, an engineer, because one reason for being made compulsorily redundant was an inability to do the job. 'They were both held in high regard,' he said. Mr Banes, who had worked for the BBC for 24 years, was awarded pounds 30,000 in severance money and Mr O'Mahoney pounds 15,000.

The tribunal declined to hear the arguments in favour of 'interim relief' for Mr Banes and Mr O'Mahoney after a submission from the BBC that such a decision could not be granted where redundancy was involved rather than dismissal.

Mr Lennon said: 'It's a blow, but a small one. It was a technicality and does not undermine our main arguments that our members have been victimised.'

The BBC declined to comment.