BBC unions call off industrial action

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The Independent Online
TALKS aimed at settling the damaging industrial dispute at the BBC are scheduled for Monday following a union decision to call off action tomorrow, which would have disrupted coverage of the European election results.

A decision to resume negotiations at Acas, the conciliation service, came after the National Union of Journalists and the Bectu production union agreed to work normally to ensure 'balanced coverage' of the results.

A stoppage on Tuesday was also called off to allow time for the negotiations which begin on Monday afternoon, but other action is still scheduled to go ahead.

A letter to staff from John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, yesterday warned that management would 'invoke formal procedures' if there was any further disruption. It was known that managers planned to demand that all staff sign statements that they were prepared to 'work to contract' or face suspension.

A spokesman for the corporation said last night that there was no question of compromise over management's two basic principles of the devolution of decisions on working conditions to departments and the introduction of performance-related pay.

Management was, however, prepared to offer 'clarification' of its position. The resources directorate, which supplies cameramen, lighting specialists and other technicians and where Bectu is the main union, was particularly keen to give employee representatives more detail.

Tony Lennon, president of Bectu, denied that the unions had come under pressure from the Labour Party to abandon action tomorrow. He claimed that the decision to work normally had nothing to do with the threat from the BBC. 'We saw a chink of light in a door that we thought was shut and we are happy to explore what lies behind it,' he said.

A BBC spokesman welcomed the unions' decision. 'The BBC has always made it clear that there is no room for improvement in the offer but it has also made clear that it is prepared to discuss the details for clarification,' he said.

Despite an alleged ban on Labour Party politicians appearing on BBC on Thursday night when the five by-election results were being counted, there were numerous breaches, including an appearance by the spokesman on health, David Blunkett, on BBC 1's Question Time.

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