BBC unions' strikes will disrupt shows: Viewers and listeners face weeks of chaos due to pay dispute

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The Independent Online
BBC TELEVISION and radio face chaos next week when thousands of technicians and journalists begin a series of strikes in a dispute over pay and conditions.

Union leaders claim the industrial action will immediately affect news, current affairs and sport, and warn of damage to drama and the soap opera EastEnders in the long term.

The action follows the breakdown of four months of negotiations with the corporation.

In the first stoppage on Tuesday, members of the technicians' union Bectu and the National Union of Journalists will hold a 24-hour strike. Further stoppages, of varying lengths, are planned for next Friday, for Wednesday and Saturday the following week, and for Monday and Thursday the week after.

The last planned stoppage, on 9 June, would cripple coverage of the European elections and by-elections. But unions said coverage of the D- Day celebrations would not be hit.

Yesterday, Tony Lennon, the president of Bectu, said the action would continue until the BBC dropped plans for performance-related pay and changes in conditions which, he said, would force more flexible working and eliminate special payments.

'This is not a greed strike. Since the introduction of the internal market our members have sweated to keep programmes going. The management now wants blood and we are not going to give it,' he said.

The strike will embarrass John Birt, the BBC's director-

general, as he awaits a government white paper on the future of the corporation, due in mid-June. The BBC insists that more flexible working is crucial to improve efficiency. Margaret Salmon, director of personnel, claims that inflexible working is partly to blame for the BBC's lack of competitiveness in some areas compared to the external market.

A BBC spokesman said yesterday the corporation was committed to the introduction of performance-related pay, but insisted that the plans would not undermine collective bargaining. Annual increases would still be negotiated through the unions.

But John Fray, the NUJ's broadcasting officer, said journalists were determined to resist the introduction of performance-related pay, and he was confident that his members would support the strike. The action follows ballots by both unions which were in favour of striking.

A BBC spokesman insisted yesterday that the unions were to blame for the breakdown in negotiations. 'The bottom line is we wish to talk further and the unions do not. We are disappointed that the unions are taking this course of action and are not taking up the offer of further talks.'